In a match of fine margins and major mistakes, Rangers were beaten 3-2 by Celtic. The result was disappointing, and ended any chance of a title challenge. Despite encouraging signs from the performance, the overriding feeling was one of frustration.
Rangers started the match with the expected side, with Alves starting in place of injured Russell Martin. Celtic started with a more physical side than usual. Ajer was moved to right back, and McGregor started on the left to deal with the threat of Tavernier. The respective strength of the players on the bench showed just how much stronger the Celtic squad is overall.
Rangers were looking to start the match at a high tempo. Passes were a bit longer, looking to turn the Celtic defence. This led to the first goal after only 2 minutes.
Rangers won the ball just outside their own box, and worked it out to Candeias. He was in his own half under pressure, and played a ball into the channel. It looked like Boyata was covering the danger, but the Celtic defender took a touch rather than just clear. Josh Windass used his pace to win the ball, and drive clear. Coming in from the right, he kept his composure, and finished high into the net to give Rangers the lead.
With Ibrox bouncing, the game opened up as both teams looked to get the next goal. Celtic were winning the midfield battle, and created some threat which led to corners. However, their first equaliser was a real indication of the sort of day Rangers would have.
Jamie Murphy turned Ajer deep in the Rangers half brilliantly. He drove at the Celtic defence, with Morelos to his left in good space. Sadly, the striker was offside when the pass came, and a great chance was thwarted. About a minute later, the game was level. Rangers failed to close down well enough, and it gave Rogic space on the ball around 30 yards out. His curling effort took a deflection off of Bates, and went into the top corner. After only 11 minutes, both sides had scored.
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Bates picked up an injury during that attempted block, and was stretchered off. Pictures of the knock suggest it could be a bad one. This left the crowd and players too long to reflect on the goal. The game also restarted quite slowly, with a number of throw ins for Celtic on their right. Any momentum or chance of a quick reaction was gone.
Jamie Murphy was having a fine first half, and was involved in most of what Rangers were doing. He played a great ball over the top for the on-rushing John, who cut inside onto his right foot and hit a wild shot high and wide. That link, however, was to pay dividends on the 26th minute.
Again, Murphy received the ball deep, made some space, and played a great pass. John reached it at the byline, and got in a cross to the front post. Morelos used his body to prevent Boyata clearing the ball, and it found a way through to Candeias. He kept his shot hard and low, and it deflected off of Tierney and into the net. The celebration of the player was almost as passionate as the fans.
Despite their lead, Rangers were finding it difficult to get close to Celtic in midfield. At 2-1, the game was very much played in the Rangers half. Celtic forced good saves from Foderingham, and won a number of corners. As the fourth official confirmed 2 minutes of injury time, you felt that Rangers had weathered the storm. Unfortunately, Celtic were able to equalise again.
Rangers had managed to clear the ball, and were moving out from their own goal. Candeias had chased the ball up the park, but closed down the keeper instead of making it difficult for him to pass out easily. Bain played the ball to Brown, who took a touch then played a long pass to Dembele. The striker had found a space between the Rangers centre halves, due to the team trying to step up the pitch. He held off Cardoso, and was able to lob Foderingham as the keeper made a poor decision and didn’t close the ball down in time.
It was a hammer blow to the Rangers fans and players. As the half time whistle went, Graeme Murty showed visible signs of frustration as he walked up the tunnel.
Rangers kicked off the second half, and looked to get back in front. Both sides had been very open defensively, and you could see that there was a move by both to be stronger at the back. Around 10 minutes into the half, everything changed with a red card. Tavernier won the ball well and played a good pass towards Morelos. The striker was going to be beat to the ball by Simunovic, but the defender caught the Colombian with his elbow as he lifted his arm. There is a strong argument to suggest the intent wasn’t to do that, but he was reckless. The linesman flagged instantly and advised Collum to send the player off.
The mood among the support changed from eager to expectant. At 2-2 against 10 men, the advantage seemed firmly with Rangers. Celtic brought on Jack Hendry for Tom Rogic, and became hard to break down. The attacking play of Rangers was slowed by both this and a lot of indecision. Players were receiving the ball in standing positions rather than on the run, and the movement from deep wasn’t as effective.
On 67 minutes, Celtic brought on Edouard for Forrest. They had moved to a 4-3-2, and that gave them a more natural forward option next to Dembele. It almost became a mistake when Morelos pounced on a Jack Hendry mistake to bear down on goal. He got a shot away which was slightly slowed by a touch from a defender, and well saved from Bain.
Almost instantly, Celtic took the lead. Some scrappy play in midfield saw both teams give the ball away, but then Dembele took a touch and fed Edouard wide. The on-loan striker cut inside, with both Goss and Cardoso selling themselves, and curled a good finish into the far corner.
Now chasing the game, Rangers brought on Cummings with around 16 minutes of the 90 left. He replaced Goss, who had struggled in midfield to show his best. With the full backs pushing on, Rangers had a lot of players in advanced areas. It didn’t leave a lot of space to play in, and Celtic were comfortable defensively for the most part.
As always happens in tight games, though, the team who were behind got a great chance to equalise. On the 88th minute, Windass created a great chance from a run and link up on the right. He found a yard to get a shot away, which was saved by Bain. The ball travelled across the six yard box, and looked set to be tapped in by Morelos. Somehow, he missed, and the effort hit the post and fell into the hands of Bain. It was an incredible miss, but let’s hope he’s not negaitvely affected by it too much.Celtic saw the game out from there, and took the three points.
There was plenty for Rangers to be positive about, but this was a match decided by individual errors. Rangers were the team who made more of them. It was an entertaining game, but due to heightened expectations, not one that Rangers would have enjoyed. There’s a real lack of experience in big matches throughout the squad, so they’ll have learned quite a bit from this defeat.
Foderingham; Tavernier, Alves, Bates (Cardoso, 15), John; Docherty, Goss (Cummings, 74); Candeias, Windass, Murphy; Morelos.
SUBS: Alnwick, Miller, Herrera, Holt, Halliday,.
Bain, Ajer, Boyata, Simunovic, Forrest (Edouard, 67), McGregor, Brown, Rogic (Hendry, 59), Tierney, Dembele (Armstrong, 86), Ntcham.
SUBS: Doohan, Roberts, Sinclair, Musonda.