Brendan Rodgers: 13th time unlucky but Rangers were better

No plea could be offered in mitigation by Brendan Rodgers over his first loss to Rangers across his two-and-a-half year tenure at Celtic.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Pic: SNS/Craig Williamson

He did not pretend that Filip Benkovic and Mikael Lustig being forced off in the first half with injury made the difference on an afternoon wherein his team simply did not turn up in his 13th derby and were fortunate to escape from Ibrox with only a 1-0 reverse.

The Irishman’s decision to sacrifice the midfield drive and creativity of Callum McGregor by fielding him at left-back in the absence of Kieran Tierney, consigned to the bench by fitness concerns, and his need to restrict Odsonne Edouard to a late run-out over similar issues were not decisive factors either, he petitioned afterwards. “Rangers deserved to win,” he said. “We didn’t play well. We made too many unforced mistakes. We had to make a couple of changes early on, which interrupts a wee bit what we want to do later on. I’ve no real excuses. We’ve got players missing but on the day Rangers were better than us – 13th time unlucky, unfortunately.

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“We just didn’t have a good game. You have to be humble when you win but also honest when you lose and the honest answer is they were better than us today. We have to accept that.

“We had a few breakaways and opportunities. Callum McGregor scored and was very unfortunate [to be offside]. He was brilliant for us, having to fill in that position, and arguably our best attacking player in how he served the ball going forward and very unlucky to just be offside there. We defended well when we had to but that creative side going forward was not as normal when we’ve been here. That’s the way it goes.

“I said before we’d either be in a good position or a very good position. We’re still top with a game in hand. The league has shown in the first six months it has been competitive, with Rangers, Hibs, Kilmarnock, Hearts and Aberdeen. It’s great for the league. It doesn’t change anything we didn’t already know before the game. Hopefully, we can get one or two reinforcements in that the squad needs and refresh and come back in the second half of the season and fight for the points. Nothing really has changed.”