A disappointing performance from Rangers saw them lose for the first time under Steven Gerrard, as the team were beaten 1-0 at Parkhead. The match was one which Celtic largely dominated, especially in the first half. The game was a bit more even in the second half, but Rangers didn’t test Craig Gordon anywhere near enough. There was certainly plenty of hard work, but the team looked tired and unable to get to the levels required for this match. This wasn’t so much an unlucky 13 but more a game too many in recent weeks. Even at their best, Rangers won’t often win against Celtic away from home. It was a shame they were unable to find that and give us more of an indication of how the teams compare now.
From the Ufa game, Rangers made 2 changes. Barisic replaced Flanagan at left-back, and Lafferty started wide left. Daniel Candeias was the player to drop to the bench with Ryan Kent playing on the right. Celtic started the match with the same team that played in the last Old Firm game of last season.
The game started rather cautiously. Rangers were clearly looking to sit deep and frustrate, and Celtic were happy to knock the ball about. They were getting a lot of possession as Rangers didn’t really look to compete in that regard. Celtic created their first real look at goal by winning a free kick on their left. Ntcham whipped the ball in, but it was just in front of everyone and McGregor was able to collect.
Just a minute later, Rangers fashioned a chance out of nowhere. Some pressing by Morelos and Arfield saw the ball break to Jack on the edge of the box. His right foot shot was high and wide.
Another Ntcham free kick on 27 minutes from a similar position to earlier saw the midfielder try to beat McGregor at his near post. The Rangers goalkeeper read the situation and turned the ball around for a corner. Rangers were struggling to get out, with poor play on the ball leading to clearances rather than passes. Set pieces were being defended well, but far too many fouls were being conceded. One of those, a corner by Ntcham, was cleared by Goldson and met by Forrest around 30 yards out. His shot took a slight deflection off of Jack and looped onto the bar with McGregor well beaten. From the corner, a header by Ajer also hit the bar as Rangers were riding their luck.
On the 40th minute, Celtic created the clearest chance of the match. Good play on the left gave Callum McGregor some space, and he played a great ball to find Edouard only 6 yards out. His header was poor, and Allan McGregor was able to save without too much trouble.
Rangers had a small chance late in the half as Tavernier crossed for Lafferty, but the striker couldn’t connect well under pressure and the ball went wide. With around 75% possession, Celtic had dominated the half but had nothing to show for it.
Rangers were looking to get more attacking play in the second half, but the first chance fell to Celtic again. Ntcham got space outside the box, and his right foot shot was low and on target. Despite the ball taking a bounce in front of McGregor, he somehow diverted the shot onto the bar, then recovered to collect the ball and win a foul.
Rangers were forced to defend set pieces, with Goldson and Tavernier doing well in that regard. One of their own could have created a chance on 54 minutes, but Katic was only able to head the ball straight at Gordon.
Eight minutes later, Celtic got their goal. Rangers were on the attack, with both Tavernier and Barisic high up the pitch. A challenge between Jack and Rogic saw the Rangers midfielder grounded. It looked like it may have been a foul at the time, but the referee played on and Rogic broke from just outside his own box. The Rangers players struggled to get back, and it left a 3-on-2 situation as Edouard, Forrest, and Ntcham combined to allow the French midfielder to score at the back post. Rangers felt aggrieved by not getting the free-kick, but will also be annoyed by how open they were after losing the ball.
Rangers looked to respond, and Morelos saw a shot saved by Gordon at the near post on 69 minutes. Five minutes later, a Tavernier cross was met by Lafferty, but the header went wide. Rangers were seeing far more of the ball now, but couldn’t fashion a number of chances. This time, Celtic were defending set pieces well. They were also creating some chances, with Griffiths hitting the post on 82 minutes.
Ryan Christie looked to have clearly dived to try and win a penalty on 86 minutes, but the referee felt he was fouled just outside the box. From that free kick, Griffiths caught the ball cleanly, and McGregor had to stand firm to save the shot.
Rangers created their best chance on the 89th minute. Morelos held the ball up on the right and played a pass to Candeias. His ball inside found Tavernier on the run, and in space inside the area. Usually composed in that sort of situation, the full-back snatched at the ball and dragged his shot well wide. Despite 4 minutes of injury time, Rangers were unable to threaten again.
Celtic were clearly stronger on the day. It was frustrating that Rangers felt they couldn’t match up in terms of energy and high pressing, as it would have been an interesting match if so. The defensive shape and discipline was a positive, but there weren’t many others to take from it. This match may have come just a little too early for the new squad. Given the obvious lack of energy, it was also surprising to see substitutions come so late in the game.
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Jack (Middleton 81), Arfield, Ejaria; Kent (Candeias 87), Lafferty, Morelos.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Worrall, Flanagan, Halliday, McCrorie.
Gordon, Brown, Rogic (Christie, 77), Boyata, Ntcham, Edouard (Griffiths, 67), Lustig, Ajer, McGregor, Forrest (Sinclair, 90), Tierney.
SUBS NOT USED: Bain, Gamboa, Benkovic, Kouassi.