Steven Gerrard’s maiden Old Firm derby ends in defeat
Olivier Ntcham’s second half goal gives Celtic yet another win over Glasgow rivals Rangers
Celtic’s Olivier Ntcham celebrates breakind the deadlock against Rangers. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty
The smell of cordite remains inescapable when Celtic and Rangers meet. The characters in this recurring act of epic theatre may change but controversy and conspiracy are never far from view. When matches are as painful to watch as this, such drama is highly useful. Enter Steven Gerrard, who took aim at officialdom after Rangers fell to defeat in his first Glasgow derby as their manager.
The Liverpool icon’s ire was attached to the game’s only goal and his firm belief that the Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack was fouled as Celtic mounted a swift counterattack. The case can be reasonably argued for and against, albeit the award of a free-kick would have been soft.
“For me it’s a foul and it’s also a foul for the fourth official, who shouted down his mic ‘foul, foul, foul,’” said Gerrard. “The referee in the middle has ignored that advice. For me it’s a blatant foul, he’s swept his legs. Jacko did well to get himself in between the man and the ball but for me it’s a clear foul.
“If we’d have lost to a moment of class or brilliance, I’d handle it but the referee has cost us.”
The referee in question, Willie Collum, was in a vastly superior position to his touchline assistant albeit this particular referee’s erratic performances means that doesn’t necessarily count for much. Gerrard was bemused as to why Collum didn’t heed advice.
“Why are they [the fourth officials] there?” Gerrard asked. “Say for example, talking about a red card incident for them or for us and the fourth official is saying ‘It’s a red, it’s a red,’ I think the referee would come over, speak to him, and take the advice.
“He hasn’t come over to chat about it. Look back at the cameras I’m sure you’ll see it he’s shouting ‘foul, foul, foul’. Five or six minutes later another foul happened on us and the fourth official shouted ‘foul, foul, foul.’ We didn’t get that one either.”
In proving Gerrard wasn’t one-eyed in outlook, he said his goalkeeper Allan McGregor was fortunate to escape action having “lashed out” at Kristoffer Ajer in the opening half.
The Rangers manager also conceded, rightly, that the better team won the game. Beyond typical noise which follows these fixtures, it must be noted that Rangers have only claimed five league points from a possible 12. Successful exertions in Europe partly explain that – Rangers reached the Europa League with nine men in Russia on Thursday evening – but Gerrard finds himself presiding over the seventh placed team in Scotland’s top flight. Rangers are four points adrift of Celtic and seven adrift of table-topping Hearts.
Celtic’s success owed plenty to a renewed strength in the core of their team. Dedryck Boyata excelled at the heart of defence while the scorer of the only goal, Olivier Ntcham, was the best player on display. Ntcham couldn’t miss after a terrific piece of composure from James Forrest presented him with a golden opportunity. Celtic celebrated wildly as Gerrard launched a verbal volley at the fourth official.
Earlier, Celtic had struck woodwork via Forrest and Mikael Lustig. McGregor produced terrific second-half stops to deny Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths. The margin of victory was slender but Celtic were the more adventurous and menacing side throughout. Gerrard, such an accomplished midfielder in his playing days, could only have been frustrated by his team’s wastefulness when in possession. Kyle Lafferty and Alfredo Morelos, deployed to torment the Celtic defence, wouldn’t have looked dangerous with axes in hand.
This was a timely triumph for Brendan Rodgers. Celtic’s manager endured a troublesome transfer window, as rounded off on Friday evening with the sale of Moussa Dembélé to Lyon. The France Under-21 striker had thrown his toys from the pram in desperation for that move, with reports in France claiming Celtic had broken an earlier promise to sell the player.
“The whole episode really was disappointing,” Rodgers admitted. “We wanted to try and keep him because we didn’t have another option. But then there was a line that overstepped from a behaviour perspective. I have been in this situation enough times to know whether you can pull it back or not.
“I needed to speak to Moussa and I had a few other senior members of staff with me. I just asked him: ‘Can you tell the me and the guys in the room here if you received promises from me or any member of Celtic staff?’ It was very clear and categoric that he said ‘no’. So once he said that, that was fine. I said: ‘You can now go if you can get the move’. There is a lot of integrity here within our staff and with our team in how we work.”
There is also an existing level of talent which, on this evidence, remains vastly superior to what Gerrard has at his disposal.