Old Firm Review: Rangers Triumph Again, is Celtic’s TItle Race Over?
Rangers extended their unbeaten league run to 24 games after beating rivals Celtic 1-0 in the second Old Firm match of the season.
A Callum McGregor own goal following a red card to defender Nir Bitton meant that the reigning champions are now 19 points behind the blue half of Glasgow with 3 games in hand.
The match took place on the 50th anniversary of the tragic 2nd Ibrox Disaster, in which 66 people tragically died in a crush in reaction to a last minute Rangers equaliser in the 1971 New Years’ Old Firm. Rangers Captain James Tavernier and Celtic Vice-Captain Callum McGregor laid wreaths in the centre circle ahead of a moment’s silence to commemorate the occasion.
The Big Match, Round 2
Celtic started the match on the front foot, with constant pressure from the midfield diamond on the Rangers defence. Steven Gerrard can feel lucky to have Allan McGregor in goal, who was crucial in stopping multiple shots from the Celtic front line, in particular a long range shot from Leigh Griffiths which resulted in an inspiring save from Man of the Match McGregor.
Rangers lacked sharpness during the first half, with Glen Kamara and Joe Aribo losing possession often around the halfway line. Rangers frontline Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent, and Kemar Roofe were often left isolated by the high Celtic press.
Ianis Hagi was brought on for Roofe at half time and helped Rangers get into the game more in the second half. Celtic still provided an attacking threat, however the game changed completely in the 60th minute.
Nir Bitton brought down Morelos just outside of the box, and was given a straight red for being the last man and denying a goalscoring opportunity. Celtic were down to 10 men- this is the opportunity Rangers needed.
And seize the opportunity they did. 9 minutes following the red card incident, a James Tavernier corner met the head of Joe Aribo. The ball then came off Callum McGregor’s shoulder and ended up past Vasilis Barkas. Poor set piece defending from Neil Lennon’s men was to blame for that goal.
As expected, the game did become more fiery as it came to a close. A possible red card incident on Ryan Kent by on-loan Brighton defender Shane Duffy lead to some explosive confrontations, resulting in yellow cards for Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos for Rangers and Celtic’s Shane Duffy and Callum McGregor.
Yellow cards were also dished out throughout the game to Rangers’ Steven Davis and Borna Barisic and Celtic’s Ismaila Soro. In the end, Celtic may have played better than their last Old Firm outing earlier this season, but as Rangers have just proved, the final result matters more.
Where From Here?
While having 3 games in hand, Celtic now have a near impossible mountain to climb if they want to win their 10th league title in a row. Assuming they win their 3 games in hand, they would still be 10 points behind Rangers.
Even if they win the final 2 Old Firm games of the season, they would need Rangers to drop 5 points (or 4, if Celtic can overcome Ranger’s goal difference, currently 52) in order to win it. The title is now Rangers’ to lose.
And that’s where Rangers need to focus. Rangers’ form has dropped after the New Years Old Firm for the last 2 seasons, namely due to a drop in form following the January Winter Break. However, there is no Winter Break this season, meaning Rangers have an opportunity to continue their winning momentum.
Some pundits, notably Celtic legend Chris Sutton, have already conceded that the title race is over and it is Rangers’ for the taking. Despite this, I still think it’s too early to say Rangers have won the title. The Gers have a tricky fixture list for the rest of January, with away games to 3rd and 4th placed Aberdeen and Hibernian, along with relegation contenders Motherwell and a home game to Ross County.
If Rangers can get to the end of January without dropping any points ,or at least equalling Celtic’s record, then I would feel more comfortable in saying Rangers are the champions in waiting.
Celtic meanwhile have Hibernian and Hamilton at home along with a double header with Livingston.