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Celtic inflicted Rangers’ first defeat of the season to set up a frantic finale to this season’s SWPL title race.

A first-half brace from Natasha Flint was sufficient for Elena Sadie to claim her first significant win since taking over from Fran Alonso.

Celtic lived on their nerves in the closing stages after Jane Ross had given the Ibrox side a lifeline with 12 minutes of time remaining. Jo Potter’s side forced four corners in succession, one of which clipped the crossbar, as they desperately sought for a way back into the game.

The result, along with Glasgow City’s win over Hearts, means there is just one point between the top three ahead of the final nine games of the season.

Rangers remain at the summit by the skin of their teeth but Potter will be irked at just how insipid Rangers were for large chunks of this encounter with Celtic looking the hungrier and more aggressive of the teams.

Sadiku had claimed in the build-up to the game that Celtic were the more aggrieved of the teams after they met at Ibrox last season as she insisted that her side were more disappointed with the draw than Rangers were.

Certainly, Celtic started the game as though they had a point to prove with Flint and Loferksi causing havoc for Rangers from the off – a portent of what was to come.

Loferski  got Celtic off to a flying start when she caused panic in the Rangers defence as she ran at them, with her pace and power unnerving the Ibrox backline. She took too much time on the ball, however, before trying to square to the waiting Flint and the chance was lost.

It was a stay of execution for Rangers. Three times inside the opening five minutes Celtic had cut Rangers open. The Ibrox side were without the influential Kathy Hill with Celtic exploiting that side of the park.

The opener came when Caitlin Hayes played in Loferski with the American forward’s ball perfectly weighted to split the Rangers defence and pick out Flint. Her initial left-foot effort was weak enabling Jenna Fife to parry but the forward was quick to net the rebound.

Celtic had a glorious chance to double their advantage when a Lucy Ashworth-Clifford ball onto the box was just missed by both Loferski and Flint.

Rangers tried to force their way back into the game with Celtic wasteful in possession at times,

Chloe Craig had to slide in to stop Sarah Ewens in her tracks but there were few real moments of consternation for the Hoops defence to cope with.

And while Celtic may have been sloppy at times they always looked menacing in the final third. Flint was again at the heart of another forward movement as she spooked Rangers again with a bold run, however instead of finishing herself she opted to square the ball to Loferski and the chance was lost.

Again, though, it was a lesson that Rangers failed to recognise. Flint doubled Celtic’s advantage three minutes before the break when she Ashworth-Clifford whipped in a ball – again from the right-hand side – Tessal Middag, running back to goal, made a mess of the clearance as she blasted it high into the air with Flint volleying the ball well past Fife.

The on-loan Liverpool striker might have a hat-trick when a simple ball over the top on the cusp of half-time sent her back in behind the Rangers defence yet again. However, she snatched weakly at her effort from the edge of the box with a tame shot that trickled towards Fife with the Rangers goalkeeper easily collecting.

Potter waited until just before the hour mark as she introduced Mia McAulay. The teenager was barely on the park when she received an exuberant welcome to the game by Ashworth-Clifford with a tackle that prompted quite the melee.

Ashworth-Clifford was heavy with a touch and careered into McAulay directly in front of both dug-outs. Potter was furious as were a number of the Rangers players as tempers flared between both sets of players. Referee Ryan Kennedy flashed the yellow with Celtic manager Sadiku among those who collected bookings for their part in the stramash.

It wasn’t the end of the controversy for Ashworth-Clifford. A few moments later Rangers appealed for a penalty after the ball seemed to bounce off her body and then her arm. With no VAR in the women’s game there was no case to answer.

As Rangers, fuelled by a sense of injustice, rallied, Loferski could and should have put the game to bed. A sweeping pass from the outside of her left-boot picked out Loferski but her first touch was too heavy allowing Middag to get back and recover her ground.

Murphy Agnew, just on the pitch, could also have made certain of the points when she sclaffed an effort after she was through on goal.

It could have proved particularly costly as Ross pulled one back to have the Celtic nerves jangling for the closing stages.

Celtic failed to properly clear Nicola Docherty’s ball into the box with the Scotland striker turning the ball into the net from close range.

It set up a frantic finale. Rangers forced four corners in succession in added time, one of which came off the crossbar.

In truth, it was too little, too late from Rangers as Celtic claimed a massive three points.

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