“There were more empty seats than Rangers supporters, who were barely seen and only sometimes heard” Alan Pattullo says reduced allocation for away fans spoiled Old Firm game
● Frenchman’s strike the only goal of the game but hosts hit woodwork four times ● Gerrard suffers first defeat, as Rodgers’ unbeaten run in the fixture stretches to 12
No Moussa? No problem.
Celtic’s summer transfer window dealings may have left their supporters less than impressed but there was an element of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” for Brendan Rodgers as he extended his dominance of the Old Firm fixture.
Able to name exactly the same starting XI which crushed Rangers 5-0 here in April when Celtic wrapped up their seventh consecutive league title, Rodgers could take satisfaction from another fully deserved victory which helped banish the bad taste left by the manner of Moussa Dembele’s sale to Lyon late on Friday night.
Olivier Ntcham scored the only goal of the contest midway through the second half, its legitimacy questioned by Steven Gerrard as he suffered his first defeat as Rangers manager. But while he has clearly instilled greater steel and tactical awareness into his team, they remained second best to Celtic for most of an afternoon which saw Rodgers stretch his unbeaten run in the fixture to 12 games.
In contrast to the stability of Rodgers’ side, Rangers captain James Tavernier was the only survivor in the visitors’ starting line-up from that harrowing and humiliating afternoon for the Ibrox club towards the end of last season.
It was a measure of the radical overhaul of personnel undertaken by Gerrard, with six of his team making their Old Firm debuts. Rangers were deployed with the defensive organisation and resolve which has been the most notable and effective aspect of his early work in the job.
Celtic were on the front foot from the start, while Rangers were content to try to contain them. Scott Arfield typified the work ethic in Gerrard’s team as he chased and harried tirelessly in a bid to subdue Celtic’s creative midfield players.
Arfield made an early block to deny Odsonne Edouard after James Forrest had outfoxed Borna Barisic to create space for a cross. It was a typically frantic opening spell which had plenty to keep referee Willie Collum occupied.
He dismissed an optimistic Celtic claim for a penalty after Nikola Katic tussled with Kristoffer Ajer at a corner, then dished out the first booking of the afternoon after just ten minutes to Scott Brown after the home skipper had fouled Kyle Lafferty.
Rangers were barely seen as an attacking force in the first half, Ryan
Jack posting their only significant attempt on goal when he drove a shot from 20 yards just over.
Celtic were generally camped inside the Rangers half with Allan Mcgregor by far the busier goalkeeper.
He was fortunate none of the match officials spotted him kicking out foolishly at Ajer when the big Norwegian was on the ground following a Callum Mcgregor freekick in the 25th minute.
Three minutes later, Mcgregor made a smart save to keep out a curling Ntcham free-kick from the left edge of the penalty area. Celtic were gradually cranking up the pressure and finding more space in the attacking third of the pitch.
Rangers’ goal had a charmed life when Celtic struck the crossbar twice inside the space of around 60 seconds. Forrest saw his 20-yard shot deflected on to it off Jack, then from the resulting corner taken by Callum Mcgregor, the ball was flicked on to Mikael Lustig whose header hit the frame of the goal.
Edouard should have put Celtic ahead six minutes before the interval when, after fine play from Kieran Tierney, he was picked out by a Mcgregor cross. The French striker had the goal at his mercy from around six yards out but his header was too close to Mcgregor who made a fine save. Rangers’ forward players saw little of the ball in the opening 45 minutes but Lafferty missed a chance to snatch the lead just before the break when he headed wide from a James Tavernier cross.
Celtic resumed their dominance of territory and possession after the break, forcing a series of corners as they kept Rangers hemmed in. Mcgregor made a stunning save to keep out a 20-yard shot from Ntcham in the 49th minute, somehow managing to divert the ball up on to his crossbar and over.
It was relentless from Celtic at this stage and the Rangers keeper kept his team in it again when he touched over a Dedryck Boyata header from Callum Mcgregor’s cross. The home team certainly deserved their 62nd-minute breakthrough, although it left Gerrard and the Rangers players complaining bitterly about the manner in which it occurred.
Jack went down in a challenge with Tom Rogic but referee Collum saw nothing untoward and waved play on. Rogic surged forward as the flatfooted Rangers defence tried to get back into position, feeding Edouard on the edge of the penalty area. The striker
“Allan Mcgregor was fortunate none of the match officials spotted him kicking out foolishly at Kristoffer Ajer when the big Norwegian was on the ground after a Callum Mcgregor free-kick in the 25th minute”
was crowded out but slipped the ball to Forrest on the right. The winger slid it low across the face of the six-yard box for Ntcham to give Mcgregor no chance with a firm right-foot shot.
Leigh Griffiths replaced Edouard shortly afterwards
and his first contribution, a superbly delivered corner from the left, almost saw Celtic double their lead as Lustig headed wide.
Craig Gordon was forced to make his first save of the match in the 68th minute, proving alert to a rare threat posed by Alfredo Morelos who beat Boyata and cut in from the left to unleash a shot which the Celtic goalkeeper did well to divert wide.
Griffiths came close with a couple of long range efforts in the closing stages as Celtic, aside from a good chance for Tavernier which he pulled wide after being set up by substitute Daniel Candeias, saw out the victory in relative comfort.