Celtic sur­vive scare to re­assert Old Firm or­der

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - FOOTBALL - SCOT­TISH FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Ibrox By Roddy Forsyth

Rangers’ 15-month un­beaten home record was ended by the most pre­dictable op­po­nents, but only af­ter an un­fore­seen start in which Mark War­bur­ton’s play­ers led through an early strike by Kenny Miller.

De­spite im­pres­sive dom­i­na­tion of most of the first half, they were brought back to par­ity when Moussa Dem­bélé net­ted his 14th goal of the sea­son shortly be­fore the break and Celtic se­cured the ex­ten­sion of their un­de­feated se­quence of do­mes­tic games to 24 when Scott Sin­clair snatched the win­ner in the 65th minute.

The first half was con­vul­sive and com­pelling in the fury of com­bat, hence the six min­utes of added time be­fore the par­tic­i­pants were per­mit­ted the sanc­tu­ary of the in­ter­val. Celtic’s re­gal pro­ces­sion through the do­mes­tic sched­ule had set the tone of some of their state­ments in the run-up to this en­counter to the ef­fect that even a first de­feat of the cam­paign would be in­con­se­quen­tial in the greater scheme of progress un­der Bren­dan Rodgers. That air of ca­sual dis­dain was be­lied by the pro­lon­ga­tion of their cus­tom­ary hud­dle be­fore kick-off, which in­di­cated that they had been made aware that the oc­ca­sion was about to de­mand a sin­gu­lar ef­fort. “It was a bril­liant re­sult for us,” Rodgers said. “We thor­oughly de­served the win. It was a real great ad­vert for Scot­tish foot­ball.”

Since Rangers went into fi­nan­cial melt­down in the sum­mer of 2012 there had been four col­li­sions of these arch­foes, but not at Ibrox. Any no­tion that this would re­sem­ble Celtic’s ha­bit­ual am­ble around other out­posts of the Scot­tish Pre­mier­ship evap­o­rated amid the ex­change of pre-match cour­te­sies. The con­tend­ing sup­ports were at each other’s throats in song, of course, but an ad­di­tion­ally ran­corous note was sounded dur­ing the ob­ser­va­tion of the si­lence in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 66 spec­ta­tors who died in the Ibrox dis­as­ter at the end of the equiv­a­lent fix­ture in 1971.

One oc­cu­pant of the stand al­lot­ted to the vis­it­ing sup­port bawled the name of Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker. He was shushed by many of those around him, but his heckle trig­gered a bar­rage of fu­ri­ous howls from the home fans, all of which im­bued the rit­ual with a crass tone.

The arena was rock­ing with le­git­i­mate noise as the Celtic play­ers im­mersed them­selves in their hud­dle for longer than usual.

When they did the same in the Scot­tish League Cup fi­nal in Oc­to­ber, it seemed to have the ef­fect of anaes­thetis­ing Aberdeen, whose con­tri­bu­tion to the pro­ceed­ings was qui­es­cent, to say the least. This time, it was Celtic who looked be­fud­dled as Rangers, per­haps mad­dened by re­lent­less re­minders of their in­fe­ri­or­ity in ev­ery area of the field, took the game to the cham­pi­ons with pal­pa­ble pas­sion. Al­though with­out one of their prin­ci­pal driv­ers be­cause of an in­jury to their cap­tain, Lee Wal­lace, War­bur­ton’s play­ers gen­er­ated an im­me­di­ate mo­men­tum that forced Erik Svi­atchenko into a nervy er­ror when he passed straight to Barry McKay, who bolted into the Celtic box for a cut­back that Ja­son Holt drove off Stu­art Arm­strong to force the first corner af­ter 25 sec­onds.

It came to noth­ing, but Celtic had been served no­tice of an in­tent that took more sub­stan­tial form in the 12th minute. Again Svi­atchenko was rushed into un­char­ac­ter­is­tic care­less­ness, which al­lowed Josh Win­dass to feed James Tav­ernier for a fiercely driven cross into the goal­mouth where it was steered across the line by Miller for his fifth goal of the sea­son.

The mo­ment was sig­nif­i­cant, be­ing the first time Rangers had led in 192 min­utes of foot­ball against Celtic un­der Rodgers.

Celtic came close to fall­ing fur­ther be­hind when Tav­ernier found Mar­tyn Waghorn – re­place­ment for the in­jured Joe Gar­ner – for a first-time ef­fort that Craig Gor­don blocked in­stinc­tively.

Celtic took this as their cue to pro­duce their first tan­gi­ble menace as Sin­clair adeptly stayed on­side on the counter to beat Wes Foder­ing­ham with a low ef­fort that struck the far post. Their frus­tra­tion, though, was al­le­vi­ated six min­utes be­fore the break when Rangers’ fa­mil­iar de­fen­sive frailty was ex­posed by a Sin­clair corner that found Dem­bélé un­marked for a left-foot drive into the roof of the net.

The league lead­ers emerged for the restart clearly in­structed to avoid any re­peat of their first-half tor­por and they re­sponded with pres­sure that came close to be­ing graced by a sec­ond for Dem­bélé, when the French for­ward struck a shot into the ground and off the cross­bar.

Rangers were also to see an at­tempt ric­o­chet off the goal frame when Andy Hal­l­i­day found Miller and the vet­eran for­ward rolled the ball be­yond Gor­don but off the base of the far post.

By that time, Celtic’s for­tunes had as­sumed more fa­mil­iar form thanks to Sin­clair, who net­ted the win­ner from a flow­ing move in which Stu­art Arm­strong shut­tled the ball to him af­ter a clever re­verse pass from Pa­trick Roberts. Celtic fans ca­vorted but the most clin­i­cal re­ac­tion came from the book­mak­ers, who cut Celtic’s odds on an un­beaten do­mes­tic sea­son to 5-2.

War­bur­ton in­sisted his fo­cus was solely on his team af­ter Celtic went 19 points clear at the top. “I’m not wor­ried,” he said. “We want to take this club as high as we pos­si­bly can.”

Win­ning men­tal­ity: Scott Sin­clair hits the goal that de­cided a rau­cous Old Firm derby at Ibrox and put Celtic 19 points clear at the top of the Scot­tish Pre­mier­ship yes­ter­day

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