It was a day that Rangers and their support have craved for two and a half years. A day that meant there may be better ones ahead for the Ibrox club, whose faithful have had to wait almost seven years to throw themselves into the frenzy that accompanies a league win in this fixture.
By the end, they may even have been missing a 7,500-strong away support to goad, Celtic’s reduced ticket allocation meaning only 700 visiting fans had to suffer with their side.
Steven Gerrard’s men bringing an emphatic end to a 12-game run without a victory against their ancient adversaries and halting a four-game losing streak in home derbies carried a heap more significance than simply drawing these Scottish heavyweights together on points at the top of the Premiership. The cloak of invincibility that Brendan Rodgers and his side have donned, imperiously at times, in this Glasgow dust-up was ripped from them by a rampant Rangers. Dynamic and dogged, Gerrard’s side delivered an utterly dominant defeat of opponents who proved as desperate as they were driven.
The outcome could easily have been as lop-sided as the derby filletings that Rangers have been on the wrong end of since Rodgers swept into Scottish football in June 2016. On a string of occasions, Craig Gordon was required to bail out a Celtic back four that was edgy and unsure. The imbalance created by Callum McGregor’s deployment at left-back to fill in for the less than fully fit Kieran Tierney, and a harem-scarem display from Dedryck Boyata were seized on by a Rangers side that overwhelmed their visitors in midfield and pressed them high. Indeed, the intensity and aggression Gerrard drew from his men forced an error-strewn display in all departments from the Scottish champions who found themselves in the altogether.
Denuded of composure and crispness in their passing – with Scott Brown notably cutting a battle-weary figure as he was physically bested by Scott Arfield – Rangers had them on the back foot and gasping for almost the entire first half hour. By the time that the Ibrox side had grabbed a deserved lead, they could have been three in front with Gordon thwarting Daniel Candeias when clean through, and blocking a Connor Goldson header before Brown headed an effort on to his own goal frame.
The construction of the decisive strike and the scorer of it spoke of the key protagonists for Gerrard’s side. Ryan Kent, in only his second game after two months struggling with hamstring problems, led Mikael Lustig a merry dance in the early stages, and had the Swede corkscrewing through 360 degrees when he skinned him down the left before supplying a cutback to Ryan Jack. In turn, the midfielder squeezed the ball beyond Gordon with the assistance of an inadvertent touch off Brown as the ball went between the Celtic captain’s legs for Jack’s first goal in Rangers colours.
Gerrard’s side began the second period as they had the first, with their tempo and tenacity pulling Celtic every which way. Another clutch of opportunities was squandered, with Gordon denying Kent, and both Alfredo Morelos and Arfield having efforts blocked from close in. Celtic’s Achilles’ heel was laid bare. Even when Odsonne Edouard replaced the ineffectual Mikey Johnston on the hour, Rodgers’ men never genuinely looked like conjuring up a response to prevent them being left with a record of only four victories from 11 Premiership away games this season.
They had one moment. McGregor strode forward in the 66th minute and was played in by Ryan Christie before finding the net with a thumping low effort that went through the legs of Allan McGregor, but the Scotland international had strayed marginally offside. Their only other moment to cause anxiety came when Andy Halliday bravely blocked at point-blank a ferocious drive from Olivier Ntcham.
That turning of the tables exemplified what yesterday was all about, and what it meant to those of a Rangers persuasion, as recognised by Gerrard afterwards. Halliday, the supporter with a shirt, has suffered anguish and ridicule as his team have been regularly flailed in this fixture. Ntcham, in contrast with a raft of others in the Celtic ranks, had never known the experience of coming off second best in this match-up. “Unlucky 13,” Rodgers lamented afterwards, of his first loss to his club’s bitterest rivals. All the while knowing there was nothing unlucky about the fate that befell his befuddled and bedraggled team.