Rangers inflicted the first Old Firm derby blow in a historic Scottish Premiership campaign – and moved four points clear at the top – with a dominant 2-0 win at Celtic Park.
In the first Glasgow derby without fans, Steven Gerrard’s side forged an early lead when Connor Goldson headed in James Tavernier’s free-kick.
And the Rangers’ centre-back tapped in after the break to finish off a lacklustre and unfamiliar Celtic side shorn of four players due to Covid-19 protocols.
The win laid down a marker in a significant season, as the Ibrox side attempt to prevent their city rivals winning an unprecedented 10th consecutive title.
Neil Lennon’s team do still have a game in hand and were without star striker Odsonne Edouard and midfield regular Ryan Christie, but were nonetheless outclassed again in a derby.
Despite losing two of the three Old Firm meetings last season, Gerrard’s team could rightly lay claim to having looking the more accomplished side in those games.
They won the midfield battle in two of those three contests, and started in exactly the same vein with crisp passing and movement. Celtic – with five derby debutants in their ranks, including academy player Stephen Welsh at centre-back – looked unsure of themselves in possession.
The cauldron atmosphere can be suffocating in these meetings, but a lack of fans resulted in a more compelling tactical battle, which Rangers had the better of. Tavernier and Borna Barisic roamed down the flanks and into the spaces vacated by Celtic’s wing-backs, combining with Ryan Kent and Brandon Barker at will.
And what Gerrard’s side can always rely on is quality of delivery from captain Tavernier, and his inch-perfect free-kick allowed Goldson to steer Rangers in front after just eight minutes. Celtic only managed Mohamed Elyounoussi’s forlorn lob over the top in reply before the break after he had done well to rob Goldson.
The champions’ first-half display conformed to recent games – if not results – as they lacked tempo and urgency. Lennon made no changes at the break, and his side continued to struggle with movement in forward areas. Patryk Klimala was anonymous up front, and Albian Ajeti made little impact when he came on midway through the second period.
Rangers, meanwhile, showed their sharpness in stretching their advantage as Arfield, Kamara, and Morelos all combined on the edge of the box before the former’s delivery fell to Goldson to bundle home at the second attempt.
Kent was twice denied by a lunging Kristoffer Ajer as Rangers threatened to embarrass their rivals on their own patch, while Celtic’s only flirtation with goal came when substitute Leigh Griffiths managed to round Allan McGregor but could not find the target.
The fact Celtic – who have secured 53 points from a possible 57 since the last meeting between the sides – did not manage a shot on target illustrates the scale of Rangers’ comfort.
Man of the match – Glen Kamara
What did we learn?
Rangers have undoubtedly worked out how to get the better of their rivals. Once again they shut them down in midfield and exerted control through their passing and composure. It was a complete performance.
What remains to be seen is whether this is a significant step forward. We’ve seen excellent Old Firm performances before from Gerrard’s side, with no trophies to show for it. We’ll only know whether they are the real deal this time if they are in the fight come April, but again the signs are good.
As for Celtic, it seems Lennon’s favoured 3-5-2 formation is not working, which is alarming given the recruitment was focussed on filling those specific positions. Next to Rangers, they looked like a team without a clear identity, but rather a clutch of individuals who are performing below their ability.
The positive for them is that nothing is won in October, and they are the experts at bouncing back from rare defeats. Nonetheless there is undoubted concern about their current level of performance.
Both sides are in Europa League action on Thursday. Rangers travel to Belgium to face Standard Liege (17:55 BST), while it doesn’t get any easier for Celtic who host AC Milan (20:00 BST).
How to play
Rate players out of 10 throughout or after the game. The rater will close 30 minutes after the final whistle.
Rating range key = Give it up = Pure perfection
- 57WelshSubstituted forTurnbullat 84′minutes
- 4DuffyBooked at 85mins
- 8BrownBooked at 61mins
- 21NtchamSubstituted forRogicat 67′minutes
- 93LaxaltSubstituted forTaylorat 84′minutes
- 11KlimalaSubstituted forGriffithsat 67′minutes
- 27ElyounoussiSubstituted forAjetiat 56′minutes
- 37ArfieldBooked at 60minsSubstituted forAriboat 90′minutes
- 21BarkerSubstituted forJackat 62′minutes
- 20MorelosBooked at 85minsSubstituted forIttenat 86′minutes
Match ends, Celtic 0, Rangers 2.
Second Half ends, Celtic 0, Rangers 2.
Scott Brown (Celtic) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Ryan Kent (Rangers).
Scott Brown (Celtic) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Cedric Itten (Rangers).
Substitution, Rangers. Joe Aribo replaces Scott Arfield.
Jeremie Frimpong (Celtic) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Cedric Itten (Rangers).
Corner, Rangers. Conceded by Vasilios Barkas.
Attempt saved. James Tavernier (Rangers) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top left corner.
Foul by Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic).
Ryan Jack (Rangers) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Rangers. Cedric Itten replaces Alfredo Morelos.
Shane Duffy (Celtic) is shown the yellow card.
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Shane Duffy (Celtic) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Alfredo Morelos (Rangers).
Attempt blocked. Albian Ajeti (Celtic) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Leigh Griffiths.
Substitution, Celtic. Greg Taylor replaces Diego Laxalt.