Football Features

Rangers secure ‘decade bookend’ at Celtic Park to reignite Scottish title race

By J Smith

Published: 14:33, 29 December 2019

Rangers finally ended their away-day misery in the Old Firm derby as they beat Celtic 2-1 on Sunday afternoon.

Steven Gerrard’s men were brave and expansive in possession and were rightly rewarded with the lead when Ryan Kent beautifully turned home Borna Barisic’s squared pass in the 37th minute.

That euphoria was short-lived as Odsonne Edouard turned home a Callum McGregor shot rather fortunately off his hand, but Barisic once again provided the delivery for compatriot Nikola Katic to head Rangers back into the lead, giving his side an opportunity to take control of the title race.

Of course, we even had time for another Alfredo Morelos red card at the death, so, who were the big winners and losers in a truly breathless Old Firm derby at Celtic Park?

Winner: Borna Barisic

Rangers were absolutely excellent during this priceless Old Firm win but none of it would have been possible without the creative exploits of left-back Barisic.

The 27-year-old marauded up and down the flank all afternoon, giving Jeremie Frimpong a proverbial dog’s life while also keeping things locked up tight on the left.

It was his excellent run and squared pass which set up Kent for his superb opener, while Barisic’s expert delivery was met by Katic in the second half as his fellow Croatian scored Rangers’ 11th headed goal of the season — more than any other Scottish Premiership side — to give the away side a priceless lead.

As left-back performances go, they don’t get much better than this.

Loser: Alfredo Morelos 

Morelos actually put in a very strong individual performance, battling bravely against the Celtic defence and causing havoc every time he had the ball with his power and ability to link play. However, throughout the match, you could tell that unsavoury Old Firm record was beginning to weigh down on him.

Morelos pushed, pulled and tried every trick in the book but whether it was a desperate attempt from 30 yards or a chance in the six-yard box, he just could not find the net, making it 12 Old Firm clashes for the Colombian without managing to breach the Celtic net.

By the time second-half stoppage time came about, we all knew how this script played out. Morelos charged forward on the counter-attack but was blocked out by the Celtic defence. The Colombian attempted to force contact with Olivier Ntcham and to say he went down theatrically would be an understatement. Morelos received a second yellow card and was red-carded for the seventh time in his Rangers career.

Rangers won, Morelos played well, but we know how much these big games mean to him and how much they can often get to him. This will still hurt him a little — especially notching up yet another sending off.

Winner: Odsonne Edouard

It meant little in the grand scheme of things, and it was damn fortunate to be given at all but on a personal level, Edouard will be quietly happy to have bagged in yet another Old Firm derby.

If Celtic had managed to take a result from this, his goal may well have been fondly remembered as a “hand of Od” moment but as it goes, it was simply a footnote in a crushing defeat.

However, that’s six goals in six games against Rangers for the Frenchman showing that whether it’s a slick finish or a lucky bounce off a teammate’s shot, he’s always capable of a big moment when Celtic need him.

Loser: Kevin Clancy

While Edouard will be happy to see another goal go against his name this season — taking him above Morelos in the Golden Boot standings on 13 — it should never have been given and referee Kevin Clancy really did make a mess of it with this handball and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory with a number of simple decisions throughout.

“With VAR, it’s not a goal. Once again, Rangers have been done by a referee’s decision,” former Rangers striker Kris Boyd told Sky Sports. “Kevin Clancy’s got it wrong, the exact same as Willie Collum in the cup final.

“We keep going on about big decisions, and once again Rangers have found themselves on the wrong end of the decision.”

Officials are making a nasty habit of hindering Rangers in these big games and while Gerrard’s men were able to get over the line this time, it cost them a trophy a few weeks ago.

Winner: Ryan Kent 

What a goal. While Morelos will be having more personal Old Firm nightmares, Kent is having no such problems against his arch-rivals.

The former Liverpool man scored an impressive equaliser at Celtic Park last season and this time, put Rangers ahead with an even more eye-catching finish in the first half.

The way he swept home Barisic’s squared pass with such effort and ease with his left foot was a joy to watch and left Fraser Forster with absolutely no chance, directing the ball in off the Englishman’s right-hand post.

It was a goal fitting of a performance where the 23-year-old chased, dribbled and caused no end of problems to the Celtic backline.

Loser: Neil Lennon

Sunday was a huge chance for Celtic to take complete control of the title race once more in Scotland, knowing a win would have left them eight points clear of their biggest nemesis. However, despite a few periods of extended pressure, the Bhoys never really got hold of the game and were outplayed by Rangers.

The title race is now out of Celtic’s hands, with Rangers just two points behind with a game in hand and things look like they’re going to be closer than they have been in the Scottish Premiership for almost a decade.

Speaking of this now very old decade, Rangers have nicely bookended it with two wins at Celtic Park — a 3-1 victory back in October 2010, and today’s famous triumph. It’s been a long time coming but well worth the wait.

Winner: Allan McGregor

Just as Barisic was vital in providing both assists and attacking thrust down the left, none of Rangers’ good work would have mattered if not for the efforts of veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor.

The 37-year-old has been an unbelievable shot-stopper during his time with the Ibrox club and he once again pulled it out when it mattered here.

His penalty save from Ryan Christie in the first half was absolutely top drawer but only told a fraction of the story, with the former Scotland international belying his years with a number of acrobatic leaps to keep the defending champions at arm’s length.

Quite how many years McGregor can keep up this incredible standard for is unclear but he’s once again delivered the goods for Gerrard right when he was needed the most.