For the second time in the space of a month, Celtic produced an insipid and uninspiring Derby Day performance, only on this occasion, the Hoops had nothing left in the tank as they watched Steven Gerrard and Rangers taste victory at Celtic Park for the first time.
Following on from the League Cup Final at Hampden earlier in the month where a backs-to-the-wall performance was enough to see Celtic over the line, this afternoon’s Glasgow Derby continued in a similar fashion.
Clearly buoyed by their Cup Final performance, if not the result, Rangers took the game to Celtic from the get-go once again, looking to dominate the midfield and aerial battles. Lennon’s decision to recall Johnston, at the expense of Ntcham, was brave and, on the face of it, a positive move suggesting that the Hoops intended to attack and regain the ascendency. However, as the game unfolded, the Frenchman’s absence in the midfield became more keenly felt as Celtic lacked physical presence and failed to get their key attacking players involved in the game.
Rangers settled into the game earlier than their hosts who were increasingly wasteful in possession and unable to build any momentum in front of an expectant home support.
Despite dominating the opening exchanges, Rangers rarely threatened the Celtic goal, a few long-range Morelos efforts aside. Then, as often happens in these games, the match burst into life out of nowhere as Celtic were awarded a penalty after Julien had his shirt tugged by Katic at a corner. Against the run of play, Celtic had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock.
However, in a mirror image of the Cup Final where Morelos saw his spot-kick saved by Forster, Ryan Christie suffered the same fate as he watched Alan McGregor pull off a fine stop.
Moments later, Julien had a header cleared off the line as Celtic, for the first time, looked to be the side on top. That feeling did not last long as Ryan Kent latched on to a low Barasic cross from the left to sweep home an inch-perfect shot past Fraser Forster.
Rocked at having conceded during their first real spell of pressure, Celtic pressed for an equaliser which duly arrived as Callum McGregor’s effort deflected off Edouard and into the Ranger net.
Normally such a goal would lift the home side and give renewed energy to go on and press home their advantage but that was not the case today.
Rangers again looked the livelier side in the second 45 minutes with Morelos and Katic both going close before the latter eventually did strike to put the Gers back on top. Again assist the came from Barisic, this time a corner from the right which Katic bulleted home under little pressure from his marker, Ajer. Had Celtic employed a man on the posts then perhaps Katic’s effort would have been denied, but such was the power and accuracy of his header that it may have made no difference.
Celtic response to going behind for the second time was muted. The Champions went close on a couple of occasions, Julien had another cleared off the line, Bolingoli had an effort saved by McGregor, and Julien, again, was inches away from making contact to a cross from Ajer.
Bitton and Ntcham were introduced as Celtic looked to regain control of the midfield and Leigh Griffiths was given his now customary ten minutes as Celtic went in search of an equaliser.
But, in reality, as much as Celtic huffed and puffed, they failed to create any clear openings as a well marshalled Rangers defence stood steadfast.
In the final minute of injury time, Alfredo Morelos was shown a second yellow for diving as he sought to win a penalty, but even the Colombian’s dismissal could not bring any cheer to Celtic hearts.
On 29th December 2018 Rangers defeated Celtic 1-0 at Ibrox but Celtic ended the year and the season on top of the league. Perhaps today’s result is a case of history repeating.
Celtic will take the winter break to regroup and restock. They’ll come back stronger, and they will need to if they are to remain top come the end of May.