By Duncan Wright
Rangers gave a dominant display in the first Old Firm game of the season to extend their unbeaten run in the fixture to seven games. In what was by some distance their best performance of this season so far Rangers go into the international break on a high following a victory against their rivals and a fourth consecutive qualification for the Europa League.
Following further disruption due to Co-Vid Rangers were forced to play Leon Balogun at right back leaving them with no recognised defenders on the bench and missing a number of 1st team players, including in-form Scott Wright, club captain James Tavernier and both 1st and 2nd choice goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Jon McLaughlin.
The game kicked off in a tumultus atmosphere which seemed even more boisterous than normal. Perhaps it was due to the fact that this was the first Old Firm fixture to be played in front of supporters for 18 months, or maybe it was more to do with the fact that the Ibrox crowd wished to remind their rivals loudly and explicitly that they were Champions again.
The first twenty minutes of the game was played at the usual frenetic pace of this fixture without either team creating any clear cut chances. However with just over a quarter of the match gone it was the opposition who had an opportunity to open the scoring. Eduoard reacted well to a cross from the right and from only 6 yards out he managed to pass the ball past the right hand post. It was a let off for Rangers and a reminder that the opposition still carried a threat.
As the game ebbed and flowed Rangers began to find their stride and with 32 minutes gone Roofe broke down the right and found Kent on the edge of the box. He curled a right foot shot from the edge of the box which hit Hart’s far post. The volume in Ibrox was turned up once more as the home crowd sensed that the Champions were beginning to find their place in the game but there was to be no breakthrough before half time.
Following the break Rangers began to further impose themselves on the game, pressing Celtic higher up the pitch and forcing the visitors to go long from Ralston and new signing Juranovic. These balls were dealt with comfortably by the Rangers back four with and the midfield three of Kamara, Davis and Aribo picked up any loose balls and recycled possession quickly allowing Rangers to build up a period of pressure.
Despite their possession and pressure Rangers were yet to really test Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart. This changed on 65 minutes following good work from Morelos who won a free kick 10 yards from the right hand side of the opposition box. Barasic delivered an inswinging ball to the back post where a looping header from Goldson was clawed away by Hart. A minute later and Hart could do nothing as another delightful delivery, this time from a corner, found the head of Filip Helander who towered above the Celtic defence to head the ball into the net.
Ibrox erupted with a deafening noise and bedlam broke out in the stands. The goal was a deserved reward for Rangers play in the second half and showed once again the threat that the Gers carry from set pieces. There was now pandemonium inside Ibrox with all four sides of the ground participating in the ‘bouncy’ whilst the noise level just kept rising. At one point Connor Goldson was seen having to whisper into Leon Balogun’s ear in order to be heard such was the din inside the stadium.
Despite Rangers dominance in the second half they only had one goal as reward and with six minutes remaining in form Celtic striker Kyogo Furuhashi found himself one on one with Rangers third choice goalkeeper Robbie McCrorie. McCrorie stood tall and saved expertly from the Japanese striker to ensure Rangers lead remained intact. It was a save Allan McGregor himself would have been proud of and will have given young McCroie enormous confidence as he looks to continue his development.
As the clock ticked towards the end of the match Celtic continued to push for the equaliser but there was a belief and confidence in the Rangers players that they would see the game over the line and get the result that their performance merited. When the final whistle came it was greeted with an enormous roar of celebration from the stands whilst there was a public display of emotion from captain for the day Connor Goldson as he turned to the Broomloan Road end and saluted the fans in victory.
As the 1st bars of ‘I’m feeling It’ bounced around the stadium the fans soaked in every moment as they saluted the players and the coaching staff who have endured a difficult week but who ensured with today’s victory that they end the week on an enormous high.
RangersMcCrorie, Helander, Goldson, Davis, Kent (Arfield 89), Aribo, Kamara, Morelos (Sakala 84), Roofe (Lundstram 74), Balogun, Barasic