Celtic comeback highlights gulf between rivals Rangers
In what was an enthralling game, Rangers put up a fight and made things difficult for Celtic, but weren’t able to mount a comeback against 10 men. There is clearly work still to do.
Celtic’s trip to Ibrox on Sunday demonstrated the quality that Scottish football can have on the biggest occasions and for the first in a few years, both sides contributed to the spectacle. Sunday’s Old Firm had everything to label it as a classic: cracking goals, a red card and drama. Graeme Murty’s Rangers had been in an impressive run of form leading into the match, scoring 21 goals in their last five matches, with Celtic only managing six in the same number of games.
Only six points separated the rivals prior to kick-off and while Brendan Rodgers’ side had a game in hand, the idea of a title challenge looked close to becoming a reality. However, with the gap widening even further and Rangers’ inability to beat a 10-man Celtic, are the Gers further away from challenging Celtic than they once thought?
It was notable that squad injuries took its toll on Rodgers’ team selection, with the likes of Craig Gordon and Dorus de Vries unavailable for selection resulting in Scott Bain being handed a debut on the biggest stage. It wouldn’t be surprising if the on-loan keeper was spooked after conceding an early goal. Josh Windass sent Ibrox roaring after just three minutes when he fired in a thunderous strike past Bain, after some woeful defending from Dedryck Boyata.
Nerves were temporarily settled for the visitors after Tom Rogic showed his class with a long-ranged effort curving into the top corner of the net.
But it wasn’t long until the fear of a costly defeat crept in once again for Celtic, after more poor defending meant a ball across goal could be finished by Daniel Candeias. Eyes were again on Boyata for his efforts in preventing the goal. The 27-year-old never looked at ease in the champions’ defence and with a lack of options that have the same level of experience that Boyata possesses then it would have been a bigger risk taking him off.
Dembele levelled matters leading into the break after Scott Brown’s brilliant ball into the French forward who chipped it over the Rangers keeper, Wes Foderingham.
Four goals in the first half alone would lead you to believe that both supporters and neutrals alike would have prefered the game to continue on. Nevertheless, both sides went into the second half looking to match the levels of intensity displayed in the first 45 minutes.
Celtic’s chances of winning the clash took a setback early on after the break, after a high elbow on Alfredo Morelos meant Jozo Šimunović saw red. Despite playing well in the first half, Rogic was sacrificed for the defender’s actions and was replaced by Jack Hendry, the first derby the Scotsman has experienced since his return to Parkhead.
With Hendry introduced, Celtic’s defence was unaffected, if anything it looked better as Scott Brown held deep to hold the backline against Rangers’ attack.
The following substitute saw Celtic player of the season, James Forrest be brought off for Odsonne Edouard who went on to score the winner in spectacular fashion. Each substitution and the continued focus and intensity from Celtic, despite being a man down showed the tactical class that Rodgers has brought to the club.
Also, the strength in depth that the Celtic boss has at his disposal highlighted the difference between the sides with Murty’s decision of bringing Jason Cummings on for Sean Goss failing to make an impact.
Cummings himself would have felt hard done by that his introduction was not sooner if not perhaps being in the starting line-up itself, having scored a hat-trick in the match prior against Falkirk.
Rangers failed to show composure when it mattered most. This was highlighted by Morelos’ horrendous miss in the final moments of the game, striking the post from two yards out. Celtic on the opposite side of the spectrum, showing the belief and determination that won them the match despite being behind twice. In the grand scheme of things, the result also likely means that Rodgers’ side are on course for a seventh consecutive league title.
Celtic’s three Frenchmen were the stars of the show at Ibrox, Olivier Ntcham in particular showed great maturity in the midfield. Despite only having had joined the club last summer, the 22-year-old has played a huge part of Celtic’s success this season. Especially in Sunday’s match as he helped dictate the tempo Celtic like to play while stringing together passes that helped Rodgers’ side win the emotional encounter.
Rangers put up a fight and made things difficult for Celtic. If they can iron out their faults in the coming weeks, they will have their shot of redemption when the Old Firm rivals meet again at Hampden next month. Until then, Graeme Murty has work to do.