Celtic beat Rangers on Sunday to move a step closer to an eighth successive Scottish Premiership title.
However, the match was soured by the news that three people had to be treated for stab wounds after a brawl believed to be between Celtic and Rangers fans following the Glasgow derby.
Sky Sports’ Charles Paterson reflects on a fiery and dramatic contest inside Celtic Park…
On Mothering Sunday, the mother of all derbies delivered.
For seven years this fixture has often been a non-event. Celtic have trampled all over Rangers in recent times; some meetings have been embarrassingly one-sided. The financial gap between the clubs remains extensive, but Sunday was when the football contest finally returned. A regulation Celtic win? Not by any stretch.
- Celtic 2-1 Rangers
- Gerrard: Morelos fine will go to fans
The decision of both clubs to reduce away ticket allocations this season has undoubtedly changed the dynamics of the Old Firm atmosphere. The home team advantage had always been slightly diluted by the colour and noise generated from 6,000 visiting fans; inside Celtic Park the Rangers support, less than 800 strong and tucked into a tight corner, could barely be heard above a green and white din.
This match swung one way and then the other, the frailties and strengths of both teams exposed in the rawness of the occasion. Steven Gerrard had dismissed the notion of Celtic Park as “a lion’s den”; by naming the same XI that dominated the champions in December, he kept faith in a tried and tested framework.
He was also relying on his most potent player, Alfredo Morelos, to produce a show-stopping performance on the big occasion. Unfortunately for Rangers, the striker blew it.
Morelos’ goalscoring record is formidable – at his best this season he’s been almost unplayable, a nightmare for opponents. On Sunday Morelos experienced a bad dream of his own, which was completely self-inflicted. The unfortunate fact for Rangers was that the Colombian’s fifth red card of the season was almost unsurprising.
The acid test for any top performer is to deliver in a demanding environment – Morelos’ flying elbow on Scott Brown after he clipped his heels showed a complete lack of awareness for the situation he found himself in. As he was ushered from the field by the team-mates he’d let down, the manager who’s defended him to the hilt, put his hands on his head.
Morelos wasn’t the only one to lose his cool. Ryan Kent may see retrospective punishment after aiming a punch at Brown, while Andy Halliday’s decision to stand up to the Celtic captain at full-time earned him a second yellow card. Gerrard correctly pointed out that his players were provoked by Brown; he was also quick to stress they must learn to be smarter.
Brown is now in the latter stages of his career but remains a pivotal figure on these occasions. No-one relishes more the opportunity to wind-up opponents – the irony is that early in his career Brown was himself prone to losing control when antagonised. The streetwise veteran laughed in the face of Morelos as he left the pitch, but his full-time celebrations in front of the visiting support were unnecessary.
Amid the drama, the football was gripping. Rangers battled manfully to stem a green and white tide driven by French flair. Olivier Ntcham had been overrun in midfield at Ibrox and not seen since due to injury, but for 60 minutes he bossed the midfield. Odsonne Edouard’s recent late goals against Hearts and Dundee helped build a 10-point advantage; here he twisted Joe Worrall inside and out before firing Celtic into the lead. Neil Lennon described him afterwards as “absolutely outstanding”.
Motherwell vs Rangers
April 7, 2019, 12:00pm
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It had been nearly seven years since Lennon played a part in this fixture. He’s said he’s a calmer, less emotional character now – but that persona was obviously in cold storage. Edouard’s goal sparked wild scenes of celebration, on an important day in terms of the manager’s long-term job aspirations, despite his assertions to the contrary. A goal and a man up at home at half-time, Celtic seemed out of sight.
Rangers’ response was superb, if unexpected. Ryan Kent ghosted past Dedryck Boyata and slotted home Rangers’ first attempt on target. With Kieran Tierney then Boyata succumbing to injury, it was suddenly 10-a-side, and Celtic ground to a halt; they looked spent and bereft of ideas. Ryan Jack scooped a glorious chance over the bar, but Rangers seemed poised to complete an unlikely win.
Throughout Brendan Rodgers’ two-and-a-half years in charge, he consistently referred to his team’s mentality and will to win in the most strained of circumstances. Celtic keep going until the end unlike any Scottish team of modern times, and despite Rodgers’ departure, that resilience has remained.
Callum McGregor, now playing emergency left-back, picked a magnificent pass to find Edouard who set up James Forrest for the winner. McGregor and Forrest epitomise composure in the heat of battle; both have been outstanding this season and are prime candidates to be crowned player of the year.