Brendan Rodgers outlined his impressive Old Firm credentials after Celtic handed Philippe Clement his first defeat as Rangers boss with a 2-1 win at Parkhead.
The Belgian was unbeaten in 16 games since taking over from Michael Beale in October, which offered encouragement travelling to the east end of Glasgow – albeit with no away fans in the stadium due to a ticket dispute between the two clubs.
Celtic had stumbled recently with defeats against Kilmarnock and Hearts but goals from midfielder Paulo Bernardo and striker Kyogo Furuhashi came before Rangers defender Leon Balogun was sent off for denying Daizen Maeda a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Gers skipper James Tavernier fired in a free-kick in the 88th minute to make it a nervy ending for the home side, who held on to move eight points clear having played two games more.
Rodgers has now won 12 and lost just one of his 15 Old Firm derbies, having faced five permanent Rangers managers – Clement, Beale, Steven Gerrard, Mark Warburton and Pedro Caixinha.
“Over my two spells here I have worked against five Rangers managers and every time Rangers were coming,” said Rodgers, who revealed defender Stephen Welsh injured a shoulder before he was taken off.
“So for me it’s normal. If I listened to media and press then we would be in constant crisis mode and constant fear of Rangers.
“But it’s the fifth manager now. So for me my focus is only on Celtic and concentrating very much on here and a lot of the stuff that maybe does go around, thankfully I ignore it.
“We showed today that with a team still missing key players, and players who will make the difference for us, that we are competitive and we can play football and we can compete. And that is what we will continually do.
“There is no doubt Philippe has improved Rangers. He’s come in, he has used his experience and common sense. He has set the team up well. They are competitive and they play as a team.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge for us. We had to take on the challenge and that is what I have always done when I’ve been here.”
Asked if he expect to be stronger after the winter break, the former Liverpool and Leicester boss said: “We will be. (Reo) Hatate is back involved today, in a different stage of the game we could have given him some game time.
“(Liel) Abada coming back makes a difference for us, he is a goalscorer. Other players will come back, Cameron Carter-Vickers will be ready after the break.
“And hopefully we can add to the squad. I would expect us to be better.”
On the game itself, Rodgers said: “It was as you expect from these games, very tense and an amazing atmosphere.
“I felt we deserved to win the game. We did well with (Rangers’) quite direct approach at times, trying to put pressure onto our back four.
“But they were coming into the game with confidence. I thought in the spells we had when we moved the ball around – which was difficult because the pitch is difficult, I have to say – I thought particularly after the second goal we were very, very good in the game without too many scares.”