Rangers and Celtic afforded the space to deliver a cracker

Rangers' Kenny Miller celebrates scoring the opening goal. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Rangers' Kenny Miller celebrates scoring the opening goal. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Rangers and Celtic got the Hogmanay celebrations up-and-running with a frenetic 90 minutes at Ibrox stadium. A drink-fuelled audience in attendance, fireworks, stacks of entertainment, singing, a man pulling a calf, another ending up in A&E after falling awkwardly - this match had just about everything to be expected from the New Year festivities in Glasgow’s George Square when the bells are brought in.

Those in attendance this evening, as well as those packed into the nearby public houses, will be denied any space, making movement much more difficult. There were no such problems for the Old Firm sides, who lined up in relatively similar formations and who both left plenty of space for the other to attack.

Straight from kick-off, Rangers showed their intentions. Barrie McKay glided between the challenge of two Celtic challenges, helping his side win a corner. For the next ten minutes or so, Celtic struggled to settle on the ball, with Rangers in their faces at every opportunity.

Even Craig Gordon in the Celtic goal was being charged down when he received the ball into feet.

Moussa Dembele, starting ahead of Leigh Griffiths, had cut a forlorn figure in the opening stages until he took the initiative to drop into his own half and link with a team-mate before darting upfield to get on the end of any opportunity that may come his way.

This seemed to spark something in Celtic and the more the they grew comfortable in possession, the more dangerous they started to look. Especially given the space behind the high defensive line Rangers were holding - a consequence of their high-pressing approach.

Even though Celtic carried a threat at one end, they were guilty of leaving too much space for Rangers to take advantage of at the other. James Tavernier played a sharp one-two with Josh Windass before crossing for Kenny Miller to finish.

It was an excellent move from Mark Warburton’s men, though Emilio Izaguirre was caught on his heels, not tracking the danger, when the return pass was played. Whereas McKay on the other side would use his pace and touch to get beyond opponents, Tavernier’s job was made easier by the amount of times Izaguirre left space behind him.

READ MORE: Rangers 1 - 2 Celtic: How the players rated at Ibrox

The biggest gap on the pitch, however, was to be found behind the Rangers defence. On several occasions they were sent turning and racing back towards their own goal as Celtic send through some neat through balls.

Two of these were wrongly pulled back for offside, the third lead to the equaliser...eventually.

Had Sinclair controlled the ball at the first time of asking, he’d have been through on goal. His first touch took the sting out the attack but he recovered to hit the post, and from the subsequent corner, Dembele rifled the ball into the roof of the net.

The second half was just as frantic, with both sides determined to leave with the three points. Dembele hit the bar, Sinclair and Stuart Armstrong spurned a number of opportunities between them but Rangers were always a threat at the other end.

Not happy with a point, Warburton decided to go for broke, replacing Windass with Joe Dodoo and switching from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-3. Not long before that, Patrick Roberts had entered the field of play at the expense of James Forrest.

Almost immediately, Celtic were ahead. And again it involved taking advantage of the space on offer. In fact, it was a carbon copy of the Rangers goal.

With McKay playing left wing-back, Danny Wilson was stationed on the left of a three-man defence and required to cover the left-back zone. He dealt well with Forrest initially but grew more uncomfortable as the game wore on.

For the winning goal, he stepped out much further than his defensive colleagues and failed to notice the run of Armstrong when Roberts collects the ball.

Celtic didn’t settle there. They continued to press for another goal, leaving themselves vulnerable to a few Rangers counter attacks that very nearly ended in an equaliser.

Given the hammering Rangers suffered at Celtic Park, and their slightly more successful approach in the Betfred Cup semi-final, it was surprising to see them press so aggressively and hold such a high defensive line this time around. But it almost worked.

It was even more surprising that the intensity of the match barely dissipated, and that Celtic decided to go for the jugular rather than protect their lead towards the end of the match.

All this was conducive to a tense yet fiery, end-to-end football match. There was one factor more than any other that contributed to this: the amount of space afforded to one another.

Just don’t expect any during the Hogmanay celebrations this evening.

READ MORE: Rangers 1 - 2 Celtic: Scott Sinclair scores Old Firm winner

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