The sound of silence was music to Celtic’s ears as Brendan Rodger’s side left Ibrox with all three points from the opening derby of the season.
Kyogo Furuhashi was the familiar foe for Rangers with the Japanese striker’s volley on the cusp of the interval the difference between the sides.
His goal quietened a raucous Ibrox crowd who had expected so much but left with only the sour taste of defeat; by the time the whistle went on this one it was bitter jeers that rang aroud the stadium as the home support vented their fury at a now under pressure Michael Beale.
“The fans are going to be upset because we lost,” he said. “I know it was a big game for me as well personally. We know it isn’t good enough.
“The most important thing in a derby game is winning. We conceded a really poor goal from an error. We pushed in the second-half and we had more opportunities than Celtic and it is hugely disappointing. We need to go away and come back stronger in the coming months.
“It is a really poor goal. You can’t legislate for it happening – we have not been opened up, we have opened ourselves up and ultimately it cost us the three points.”
He and the Rangers players were booed off the pitch at full-time as the Ibrox support vented their fury at a display that offered little encouragement in terms of the signings who have arrived this summer, none of whom on current evidence look like offering the quality required to wrestle the title back.
The win puts Celtic four points ahead of Rangers and two points clear at the top of the table and rounds off a miserable week for Rangers after the heavy defeat to PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League play-off followed by this afternoon’s loss.
Rangers’ frustrations will lie in knowing that Celtic were nowhere near full strength yet mustered enough to come out on top and see them off.
They threw everything at Celtic’s makeshift central defensive pairing of Liam Scales and Gustafe Lagerbielke – who left Ibrox with Celtic’s first clean sheet at Ibrox since 2019 – in the second period but found no way through as the Parkhead side prevailed.
“I said to the players before the game you have to come here and play like a man,” said Brendan Rodgers. “Even though we have a very young group, you come here with 50,000 against you and you have to show courage.
“Liam’s a guy that has spent a lot of time outside the club but what I can rely on is that he’s a warrior. He stood up when he had to, won his headers and was brave. That’s what you have to be at time.”
Furthermore, it was a game that teased Rangers with the promise of so much more. If there were concerns about the weakness of Celtic’s defence when the team-lines were released those fears seemed to be confirmed after a mere 38 seconds when Rabbi Matondo had the ball in the back of the net.
A clear offside call negated it but it seemed to be an ominous portent for Celtic who started the game with a defensive pairing of Scales and Lagerbielke, neither of whom had played in this fixture before. Scales will feel vindicated after an excellent display although Lagerbielke will thank his lucky stars that the VAR gods smiled on him; on a different day he would have been cuplabale for conceding the opening goal.
Celtic’s early unease was confirmed as David Turnbull played the ball to the feet of Greg Taylor on the touchline who somehow allowed the ball to squirm away and out of play.
It was Callum McGregor who steadied Celtic as he imposed himself in the middle of the park, spreading a calmness that had been conspicuous by its absence in the whirlwind opening minutes.
Having acclimatised to Ibrox, Celtic slowly felt their way into the game with Kygo always their most likely source of a return.
He had a chance to quell Celtic’s anxiety when he sclaffed a Liel Abada cutback with the Japanese forward then asking a further question of Rangers when he had an effort that came off the backside of Connor Goldson on the line. His better option would have been to square to Daizen Maeda.
The real reprieve, however, came for Celtic when Rangers had the ball in the net for a second time – and a second time were denied. Kemar Roofe thought he had broken the deadlock after Cyriel Dessers had taken the ball off of the ponderous and nervous looking Gustafe Lagerbielke and slipped the ball into the path of Roofe.
As he wheeled away to celebrate, referee Don Robertson rained on his parade and that of the 50,000 inside Ibrox. A VAR check concluded that the Swede had been fouled, a call that was met by incredulity by the Rangers players and support.
Rangers’ mood got considerably darker when the first-half ended with Kyogo giving Celtic the lead. Goldosn’s weak header out of defence fell landed on the head of Matt O’Riley who sent the ball straight back with the ever alert Kyogo smash a thumping right-footed volley past the flailing arms of Jack Butland.
Celtic almost started the second period as they finished the first with Abada squaring for the incoming Maeda that was cut out by a fingertip save from Butland – a save that was missed by Robertson who awarded a goal kick rather than the corner.
Kyogo might have finished the game when he blasted over rather than play in Abada before both teams rang the changes.
As Rangers kept Celtic camped inside their own half, forcing a series of corners that proved to be ineffective, their best chance of a leveller came via Sam Lammers. Having gathered a Nico Raskin pass he jinked past Joe Hart but somehow contrived to poke the ball wide.
As the game grew to a close Celtic had Hart to thank for two saves to keep Rangers at bay but it said much about the Ibrox forward line that they struggled for any composure in the final third.
Much of their frustration will lie in the fact that they could not exploit any defensive vulnerability about this Celtic side. From here on in Celtic will get stronger as players come back to full fitness while Rangers, ominously, are at full strength.
If this game tends to be an indication of where the league title goes – only seven times has the team who lost the opening fixture between these teams recovered in the last 38 years to go on and win the title – then there will be much for Rangers to be concerned about.
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