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Rangers 2-3 Celtic: Match Review

Rangers v Celtic

It was billed as the biggest ‘Old Firm’ contest in years but it was Celtic who emerged triumphant yet again. In a thrilling encounter, Brendan Rodgers’ 10-men saw the result through to the end, but the Northern Irishman won’t be fully ecstatic this week after the game. Poor defending was omnipresent from his players, something which direly needs to be addressed. For Graeme Murty, it was a humbling learning experience for the new manager, after a week of intense media hype and passionate displays from his team’s supporters.

When Rangers took the lead not once but twice in a pulsating first-half, he would have been forgiven for truly believing that an upset was on the cards. It’s a testament to the resolve of Celtic that they fought back, kept in the game, and emerged winners. This is a team who have notably been questioned for their winners’ mentality, especially in European competition.

It was Celtic’s fourth straight win at Ibrox, equalling an incredible record that had stood since 1909, and it leaves them a comfortable 9 points ahead of their rivals, with a game in hand still to play against Dundee. There will be no title race this season, certainly, but Rangers fans should still feel some hope for their club’s future on the pitch.

Daniel Candeias has been one of the signings of the season, and confidently smashed home the second goal through Scott Bain’s legs. His partnership with skillful right-back James Tavernier is powerful, commanding, and they were a constant menace to Celtic’s defence, as they were in the previous encounter at Celtic Park. That right-hand side is the one area where Rangers can say that they’re currently stronger than Celtic, and it should be a high priority of Murty to secure Tavernier for another few seasons.

New arrivals Greg Docherty, Sean Goss, and Jamie Murphy all looked promising in their debuts in this fixture, especially in the first-half, but what will need to be addressed is the lack of creativity which meant that Rangers were unable to find a way past their opposition after they were reduced to 10-men on the 57th minute. Jozo Simunovic’s loose elbow impacted on Alfredo Morelos’ face and the linesman immediately and ferociously signaled for a red card and referee Willie Collum duly complied.

It was after this flashpoint that Rodgers showed his tactical superiority over his managerial rival with his in-game changes. Youngster Jack Hendry was brought on for the defensively-suspect midfielder Tom Rogic to cover in defence and forward Odsonne Eduoard boldly followed shortly afterwards to partner Moussa Dembele in attack. His cavalier attitude in several important games have been questioned this season by the Celtic support, most explicitly against the big European teams, but it just highlights the incredibly fine margins that exist in football.

Within 2 minutes of coming onto the pitch, Eduoard had cut inside his marker and curled a delightful right-footed shot into the far corner, in what would end up being the winner. Murty, conversely, brought on Jason Cummings to strengthen his attack, but none of his players could find a way through until late in the game, when Morelos missed one of the worst sitters in recent memory. Bain also saved well when one-on-one against him earlier in the second-half and, while he is certainly a powerful striker and still young, there is still lots of work to be done on his game.

All the goals were of excellent quality – particularly Rogic’s signature left-footed blast from outside the box that swept into Wes Foderingham’s top corner. Olivier Ntcham also gave a man-of-the-match performance in central midfield, at certain points looking a class above the rest with his touch and vision. Less impressive was the terrible performance of Derrick Boyata, who handed the first goal to Rangers with his characteristic mistake and continued to look uncomfortable throughout. It must be said that the big Belgian defender was rushed back from injury to play in the game, but Rodgers will need to tighten his defence if they are to cut out these needless errors costing his team.

The next match between the two is just over one month away, in a Scottish Cup semi-final encounter that was notoriously welcomed by the Rangers support when the draw was made, but perhaps their expectations will be tempered going into this one. Murty has molded these players into a better team than they ever were under previous incumbent Pedro Caixinha, but Celtic remain a far superior and higher-quality side.

Freelance writer currently based in New Zealand.