Rangers failed to register a shot on target, but still emerged with their title goal significantly strengthened by a precious Old Firm victory over Celtic.
Neither manager – predictably, with more than four months of the season still to play – is budging from the party line of nothing being decided yet.
Yet the evidence is increasingly clear, with 10-man reigning champions Celtic’s 1-0 defeat at Ibrox leaving them 19 points adrift of Scottish Premiership leaders Rangers, albeit having played three games fewer.
BBC Scotland pundits assess how the game was won and lost, and where it leaves both sides.
‘Gap is too big’ to close
Former Rangers winger Neil McCann
“No, I don’t think Celtic can catch them. Rangers have built up too big a gap now. They have too big a margin for error. They can afford to make some mistakes, but Celtic can afford none.
“I know there are two Old Firm derbies to go. But, if you take away the games in hand that Celtic have to win – and there’s no guarantee they’ll do that now considering the mindset they’ll be in – it’s 10 points plus goal difference. So it’s virtually four games that Rangers would have to lose and Celtic winning all of theirs.”
Former Hearts, Hibernian and Scotland midfielder Michael Stewart
“I just don’t see Rangers slipping up to the level they would need to. That’s why this game was so crucial – Celtic had to win it to try to plant a seed of doubt in Rangers’ mind and land a psychological blow.”
Lennon’s tactical plan unrewarded
The manner of Celtic’s defeat was galling for manager Neil Lennon. His side were dominant for much of the first hour and his bold tactical set-up looked to be paying off.
McCann: “It was a really brave game-plan by Lennon, going with a midfield diamond. In the last Old Firm game, Celtic’s full-backs were dragged out, but this time they were able to stay in position and that was because of the work-rate of the midfield diamond.
“You always felt Rangers would have the upper hand in the wide areas with James Tavernier and Borna Barisic, but we hardly saw them and that was because the Celtic midfield was so workmanlike. It takes a lot of discipline, industry and desire for this to work. The intensity and controlled aggression of their game was exceptional.”
Stewart: “Celtic were going for the full-backs because that’s where Rangers’ weakness is defensively. The key was they got into those areas, but the final ball wasn’t good enough. It was great industry from Celtic, but the problem is they didn’t get themselves in front.”
McGregor is Rangers’ ‘all-time best’
Celtic were stymied by an opposing goalkeeper in inspired form. Allan McGregor denied Odsonne Edouard in the opening stages and the second of his two saves from Leigh Griffiths – tipping the ball on to the post – was breathtaking.
McCann: “It is without doubt the save of the season. Griffiths thinks it is in and has every right to. McGregor has become a legend of Rangers. If this is the season that stops 10 in a row, he will have had a massive part in it.”
Former Rangers forward Peter Lovenkrands
“If it wasn’t for Allan McGregor, the game would have been completely different. I know Allan really well and he’s a top professional and hugely important to the club. To have a goalkeeper like that to rely on is crucial. And that’s one of the things Celtic are missing right now.
“For me, he is the best all-time Rangers goalkeeper. I put him above Andy Goram and Stefan Klos – all three are unbelievable shot-stoppers, but McGregor’s overall game is better. He is extremely good at finding passes.”
‘Red card highlights Celtic’s bigger failings’
The game was decided within eight second-half minutes as Nir Bitton was sent off for hauling down Alfredo Morelos before a Rangers corner led to Callum McGregor scoring an own goal.
Stewart: “Celtic were so tight all over the park when Rangers tried to play out from the back in the first half. The marginal difference in the second half was at the sending off. Celtic didn’t get close enough to shut down Tavernier, who was able to charge 20 yards forward and expose Celtic with a simple ball down the line.
“There’s no doubt it’s a red card. It strikes at the bigger issue – what’s happened on the park at Ibrox is a manifestation of the poor decisions that have been made at all levels of the club. They are playing Bitton, who is not defensive minded, at centre-half when they have a loan player in Shane Duffy, who they are paying a lot of money, sitting on the bench. That’s not to say Duffy should be playing, but these are the structural problems at Celtic.
“Defensively, they have not been good enough. They’ve flitted from a back three to a back four to a three-man midfield to diamond, from two up top to 4-3-3. They’ve tried everything, they don’t know what their best team is. Rangers, on the other hand, give complete consistency.”
McCann: “The goal was created by Joe Aribo and his determination to get across the front post. It’s his head flick that comes off Callum McGregor’s left arm.
“Celtic actually set up okay, with McGregor on the six-yard box and Edouard on the front post. But Edouard leaves the front post when there’s no reason to. Had he stayed there, he might have cleared the ball or Vasilis Barkas might have been more central and able to save.”
Celtic departed for a warm weather training camp in Dubai on Sunday before facing Hibernian next Monday, while Rangers take on Aberdeen at Pittodrie the previous day.
Lovenkrands: “As a player, whenever we beat Celtic, it was the game after which was the key for the season. If you win the next game, then you’ve put your mark down. Whereas, if Rangers now lose to Aberdeen, then the three points from the Old Firm match will have been wasted. They’ve won the Old Firm, now they need to back it up with victory at Pittodrie which is never easy.”
Stewart: “Celtic’s trip [amid the Covid-10 pandemic] definitely does seem a little strange and doesn’t look right, although they’re not doing anything that isn’t allowed.
“My feeling is Celtic are desperately trying to do the things they’ve done before. It’s almost like this has been part of the reason things worked in the past, so let’s do them again. When really it’s just the icing on the cake. The problem at the moment is the cake’s not in place. Going over to Dubai isn’t going to sort everything out.”