Rangers put Covid issues behind them as Helander heads winner against Celtic

Scottish champions stretch unbeaten run in Old Firm games against great rivals to seven

 

Rangers 1 Celtic 0

A seventh Old Firm game in succession without defeat for Rangers arrived in circumstances which mean this victory mattered more than most.

Celtic remain winless in the league away from home since Valentine’s Day, a grim statistic which will have to change if Ange Postecoglou’s side are to be involved in a title race. A competent – and it was no more than that – second-half display from Rangers was sufficient to break Celtic hearts here.

Postecoglou’s opposite number, Steven Gerrard, was not in attendance at Ibrox due to Covid-related issues. Rangers were also without two goalkeepers and two right backs – including their captain – but saw this win out pretty comfortably.

It took 85 minutes for Robby McCrorie, Rangers’ third-choice goalkeeper, to be called into serious action. These are, of course, early days but the sight of Celtic as sixth in the Scottish top flight, with six points from four matches, undermines strong progress many are adamant has already arrived under Postecoglou.

“It could have gone either way,” said Celtic’s manager. That much is fair comment and Celtic actually dominated possession but in this environment, coulda, woulda, shoulda counts for nothing. Especially, that is, when they are facing a depleted Rangers.

“I don’t think there was much between the teams,” Postecoglou added. “If people saw that differently then that is their opinion. It was a typical derby game and I expect them all to be pretty similar.”

Filip Helander was the Rangers hero. In returning to a theme which has haunted Celtic in recent times, the visitors were unable to clear a Borna Barisic corner. Helander rose to power a header beyond the helpless Joe Hart.

Postecoglou, who was typically calm, refused to bemoan set-play slackness. “I am bitterly disappointed to lose any goal,” he said. “I don’t think a set piece is any different to anything else. It is still about being organised. To be fair, it was an all right corner, it was a great header. There are moments in games in tight derby games and you have to take those moments.”

Much earlier, Odsonne Édouard had supplied a candidate for miss of the season. The Frenchman prodded wide from six yards after Kyogo Furuhashi’s square pass. The most dangerous Édouard looked all afternoon was when upending McCrorie, earning the striker a second-half booking. It remains to be seen whether this marks Édouard’s last appearance in hoops, with Premier League clubs hovering around the unsettled striker but on this evidence he would be no great loss.

Celtic’s best chance for an equaliser fell to Furuhashi, moved from the left flank to a central role after Helander’s goal. The Japanese was thwarted by McCrorie’s feet, in the goalkeeper’s second Rangers appearance. His first came on Thursday evening.

Postecoglou will draw criticism for Furuhashi’s positioning at the outset of the game, a choice the manager admitted may have been in error. Furuhashi was castigated by his team-mate Ryan Christie, who was in perfect position to score had the ex Vissel Kobe man not instead opted to shoot. “He squared one in the first half,” said Postecoglou of Furuhashi and in reference to Édouard’s wastefulness. “It’s not an exact science.”

Many of Rangers’ key players, Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos among them, did not play particularly well. Yet their emergency right back, Leon Balogun, excelled. Glen Kamara and Steven Davis earned a foothold in the game from midfield after half-time as spoked Celtic’s rhythm.

“It’s fantastically pleasing,” said the Rangers assistant manager Gary McAllister. “It has been a very strange three or four days. We had people playing with injuries today, not knowing who was available. But you saw people coming together.”

Rangers’ title defence has been jump started. – Guardian

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