After a derby win, a European win and a further advantage in the league. Steven Gerrard’s Rangers look good to stop the 10.
Rangers made a huge statement of intent in their 2-0 win at the home of their city rivals Celtic last Saturday. Steven Gerrard’s side continued their unbeaten start to a season that represents their last chance to stop Celtic’s hope of a historic 10-in-a-row. The match would be different to any Old Firm clash seen before, with the absence of fans being one of the main talking points prior to the game. What would have normally been a fervent sea of green a white, with a small island of blue in the corner, was replaced by giant Celtic badges with only adverts for Magners and JD accompanying them.
The once unlikely scene of a vacant Celtic Park on Old Firm day would have an unlikely hero for the away side. Connor Goldson, who has been a stalwart figure for Rangers recently – playing 106 games in the last two campaigns for the club – was certainly not renowned for his goal-scoring prowess prior to the match. However, it would be his brace that downed the Hoops. Goldson’s first came from a flicked header after an inch-perfect cross from Gers captain James Tavernier. As Celtic looked to respond, Mohamed Elyounossi had a golden chance to level just five minutes after Rangers broke the deadlock, but his looped effort flew over the bar. An unusually flat and uncreative Celtic went into the break a goal down, knowing that unless there were significant changes Rangers would win back-to-back Old Firms since 2009 – and the first consecutive wins at Celtic Park since 1997. However, these changes never came, and Neil Lennon’s side found themselves two goals down courtesy of the same source. Goldson was able to react fastest after his first effort on goal caused a scramble in the Celtic penalty box. Both sides had chances to get the next goal but were ultimately unsuccessful with the game being decided by Goldson’s double.
Celtic may bemoan the fact that they were without their support, who give them such a boost in these do-or-die clashes. The most idealistic supporter may reason that the lack of this raucous support led to the flatness of their display. However, most in reality would admit that Celtic were simply outmatched. The Hoops lacked creativity and intent throughout the whole ninety minutes, and no amount of support would have been able to change that. It is apparent that Celtic were missing key players – including Odsonne Edouard, Christopher Jullien and James Forrest – but this doesn’t change the fact there were still a plethora of quality players out on the park for the Hoops.
The fate of the clash and its immediate impact would also be mirrored in the sides’ next two games. Rangers have had a spectacular past week, with their 2-0 triumph at Celtic being repeated in their next two matches. Kemar Roofe’s wonder-goal against Standard Liege sealed an impressive 2-0 win in Belgium, with a professional victory by the same scoreline coming at home to Livingston. Celtic, on the other hand, have had a nightmare: the side suffered 3-1 home defeat in their Europa League open to a resurgent and impressive Milan. Although not a terrible defeat, it was hardly the bounce-back needed after their drab display against Rangers. An unforgiving schedule saw Celtic travel a difficult away test at Aberdeen three days later. After trailing twice, Celtic took a 3-2 lead into the final moments at Pittodrie; however, a clumsy foul by Callum McGregor would see the Dons awarded a last-gasp spot-kick. To add insult to injury, it would be former Rangers captain Barry Ferguson’s nephew Lewis who would convert the penalty to deny Celtic their first win in three games.
The events of the past week have led to a number of questions being raised. “Is Neil Lennon the right man for Celtic?”; “Is this Rangers’ year?”; “What does this mean for both sides?”
It’s undeniable that Neil Lennon is under pressure in the Parkhead hotseat; a small glance at replies to Celtic’s latest tweets will illustrate that. However, is getting rid of Lennon this early in the campaign a realistic or correct decision? There are certainly arguments on both sides, however, it does seem a bit premature and could potentially cause discontent in the squad. Furthermore, there is also the question of who would Celtic replace him with in this current climate. That said, Celtic fans are right to question some of the recent troubling home defeats, including Copenhagen and Ferencvaros in Europe, and now the defeat to Rangers, and are certainly justified to raise some concerns over recent tactical decisions.
The situation for the Rangers manager, Steven Gerrard, is very different to his Celtic counterpart. The former Liverpool captain has been hailed for his European record with the club and his side’s defensive astuteness. Rangers supporters are rightly excited about their start to the season, but those who are dreaming or despairing that Rangers may stop Cetlic’s fabled quest for 10-in-a-row should not get too carried away. Rangers are certainly where they are on merit, but Celtic have so much quality and there are so many games left to play this campaign. Rangers currently have the advantage and thoroughly deserve it, however, the Scottish Premiership is an incredibly unpredictable division and anything could happen. Rangers are developing and going from strength to strength, while Celtic should not panic and instead learn from their recent struggles and remember the quality they have that has made them the dominant force in recent years. The title race is shaping up to be a turbulent and exciting battle in these unprecedented and uncertain times. One thing is for certain: these two sides are the closest they have been in decades and it will make – at least for the neutral – absorbing and unmissable drama.