Celtic 0-2 Rangers: Citadel stormed at a canter as fissure appears in ten-in-a-row tilt
It might be too early to say that the Celtic empire is crumbling.
It isn’t premature, though, to suggest Rangers most emphatic victory over the bitter foes at Parkhead in almost exactly a decade has opened up a fissure. A crack in the foundations upon which Celtic’s tilt for an historic tenth straight title has been founded.
The 2-0 victory, which sees Steven Gerrard become the first Rangers manager to win back-to-back games at Celtic Park since Walter Smith 25 years ago, will delight and disturb in equal measure for the two clubs. Rangers will pinch themselves that they required only to be competent and – with Connor Goldson’s double – able to capitalise on slipshod defending to run out such comfortable winners. They absolutely cantered after bagging a second in only 54 minutes.
Backing up their words
Gerrard and his men talked confidently in the build-up. The Ibrox manager gave no indication he expected other than a victory that opens up a four-point gap over Celtic, who have played a game fewer. They backed that up, simply by showing an assurance and trusting their team structure to nullify their hosts.
Celtic will point to the backdrop against which the fixture took place to explain away their lifelessness. Yet, forget the absence of any supporters – they were beaten convincingly with full backing when the teams met in December – it was the absence of players for Covid-19 reason they will blame for their torpor.
In the case of Odsonne Edouard, literally so, with the virus having taken so much out of the striker, he didn’t even make the bench. Ryan Christie’s enforced isolation through being judged a Covid-19 close contact denied them a source of energy they singularly lacked. Either one of fellow Covid-19 sufferers Nir Bitton or Hatem Elhamed would have been pressed into action in a back three, where Stephen Welsh was berthed for only his second senior appearance. Not that the 20-year-old could be faulted any more than his fellow centre-backs Shane Duffy and Kristoffer Ajer, who both didn’t cover themselves in glory at Rangers’ ninth-minute opener.
Eyeing up the sentry
The Ibrox men got their groove then. They exuded the conviction and assurance of a team well versed to playing together, not a single member of their starting XI experiencing the fixture for the first time. Gerrard has built his side over two years. Lennon had to rebuild his in the past two weeks, and he just could not find the right adhesives. No fewer than four members of the home starting line-up – Diego Laxalt, Patryk Klimala, Duffy and Welsh – were making their derby debuts. On loan AC Milan left wing-back Diego Laxalt had never appeared for the club before in any circumstances.
Yet for all that Celtic had half a team out, for all that they are in flux, this should blind to the fact that Gerrard has moulded his men to put their rivals to the sword – whatever the personnel – four times now in the past two years. The changing of the guard may not quite have arrived. However, there is no question that the Ibrox men are eyeing up the sentry box and licking their lips.
Story of the match
The story of the afternoon can be related quite simply. It took Celtic 80 minutes to have an effort even sort-of on target. Even that was debatable, substitute Leigh Griffths rounding Allan McGregor from an Ajer through pass before taking the ball so wide that his subsequent attempt was deflected towards the keeper after it was knocked across goal.
Rangers, it must be said, did not have many clear cut efforts either. They didn’t need them when Duffy’s uncertainty about playing offside allowed his former Brighton team-mate to get on the end of a free-kick from James Tavernier that he nodded past the rooted Vasilis Barkas. They then had Celtic exactly where they wanted them for much of the first half hour, Lennon’s men betraying that they had never played together before. Yet, they should have equalised on the quarter hour mark. Then, Mohamed Elyounoussi – one of the more lively home performers – passed up a huge chance when he lobbed the ball over the bar with McGregor near the edge of the box after he had hustled Goldson out of possession.
So little could Celtic construct in an attacking sense it was assured they were goners when Goldson struck again seven minutes after the interval. Glen Kamara and Scott Arfield worked the ball well down the right before a low cross found the English centre-back on the edge of the six yard box. Duffy blocked his first attempt, but he poked the rebound wide of an again motionless Barkas.
An afternoon strangely uninvolving, that was to do with the largely one-sided nature as much as the empty stands. The continual lamenting over the absence of supporters owing to the Covid-19 has too often this week overlooked the virus that spreads inside any arena these derbies are held.
It may seem to go entirely against the grain, but it was refreshing to watch the contest without the bile and sectarian hatred cascading from the stands. Frankly, you can often feel entirely unclean as the supporters of the two tribes go to war in song and action. The colour, the spectacle, the intensity may all have been hugely diminished. Yet, these are often products of egregious elements of the rivalry. To ‘enjoy’ what the rancour fashions, you have to shut-out anti-Catholic chanting, glorying in the IRA and child abuse, and sick stunts like hanging effigies and offensive banners. Forgive those of us who can live without such.
Celtic: Barkas; Duffy, Welsh (Turnbull 84), Ajer; Frimpong, Brown, Ntcham (Rogic 67), McGregor, Laxalt (Taylor 84); Elyounoussi (Ajeti 59), Klimala (Griffiths 67). Subs: Bain, Soro, Henderson, Ralston.
Rangers: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Kamara, Davis, Arfield (Aribo 90); Kent, Barker (Jack 62), Morelos (Itten 87). Subs: McLaughlin, Balogun, Bassey, Jones, Hagi, Defoe.
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