It’s been a long time coming: six and a half years. March 2012 was the last time Rangers defeated Celtic in an Old Firm league fixture. With the winter break underway, the fans have three weeks to milk the victory for all it’s worth and rightly so.
Going into the game, especially off the back of the second half performance against Hibs, I can’t say I was brimming with confidence. However, the inclusion of Ryan Kent and Scott Arfield by Steven Gerrard proved to be a masterstroke as it was Kent who assisted Ryan Jack for the only goal of the game.
It was 1-0 going on five or six – a doing in every aspect except the number of goals
The scoreline simply doesn’t do Rangers justice. Of course, they will take the win and the three points that come with it, but it was the most dominant, one-sided 1-0 game you are every likely to see. From Gerrard’s point of view, it was almost the perfect performance.
The only thing that he may have a slight regret about was not putting four or five past them. What made it more one-sided is Celtic’s lack of, well, anything really. They didn’t fancy it from the moment Andy Halliday completely emptied Oliver Ntcham in a challenge where Halliday looked second favourite.
It set the tone for the game, it gave the stadium the belief and personally, I thought: ‘This is Rangers’ for the taking if they want it today.’ Rangers wanted it and then some. If it wasn’t for Craig Gordon making three excellent saves, the woodwork and some ponderous finishing it could have been any scoreline. It flattered Celtic.
The high press is the way to beat them and Rangers finally deployed it
For years, Rangers have sat off and let Celtic dominate the ball. In fact, they have barely turned up in this fixture handing the support several embarrassments along the way. Even in the first Old Firm fixture this season Rangers sat off and were poor for the majority. This time, we were all waiting on the high press and it worked. It didn’t just work it destroyed Celtic’s ability to build any rhythm within the game and more than that you could see the likes of Boyata, Lustig, Ntcham and others crumble under the pressure right before your very eyes. It was fantastic viewing.
On the flip side of Celtic crumbling, to witness Rangers put in such a high-energy, intense pressing game was an absolute delight. They went man-for-man in the middle and any time they got the ball at the back started the press. It was superb. It forced Celtic and Boyata, in particular, to knock the ball out of the park so many times that any MLB player would have been proud of that performance.
The midfield battle wasn’t as much a battle as it was a massacre
Too many times Rangers have lost the midfield battle in these games. However, the midfield three of Scott Arfield, the goalscorer, Ryan Jack, and Ross McCrorie totally dominated Brown, Ntcham and Ryan Christie. Gerrard got the midfield balance spot on. McCrorie in the holding role showed a fearless performance; every time he won it, he started Rangers on the attack. Ryan Jack got his goal, but his box-to-box display was the best I’ve seen of him in a Rangers shirt. He totally bullied Ntcham and carried himself like a Rangers no8 throughout the game.
Scott Arfield – my man of the match. Thrown in after several weeks out, and I’ve said it before on various platforms, that in recent years Rangers make Brown look like Pirlo. Well, he didn’t get the space to swan around the park as if he owned the stadium. Arfield was in his face constantly, shutting him down, giving a warrior-like performance. Not only his battling qualities stood out but he was pivotal in the many chances Rangers created. In fact, he was a goal away from a perfect 10/10 performance.
Lastly, Gerrard, I’ll reiterate, got the balance correct; that obviously helped. But the three of them deserve immense credit, not only for their individual performances but collectively as well.
They hate Alfredo Morelos – and he loves it
An article wouldn’t be complete without talking about Alfredo Morelos. The Celtic fans and players hate him. Yes, he didn’t score in this game, and the naysayers will concentrate on that aspect, but he was superb. He was at his bullying best. Most times he comes up against Boyata he destroys him physically. Not only that, we have seen how timid Rangers have been over the past few years. He stands up to Celtic and gives them it back: and guess what? They hate it.
Of course, he kicked Brown, and now everyone is crying about it. They want him banned. However, let’s not forget the whiter than white Brown kicked a young Hamilton player in the head and got off with it. The bully in Brown got bullied by Morelos and Arfield. Morelos loved it. And he can be proud of his performance even though the goal didn’t come.
Steven Gerrard has given Rangers their belief back
This has been a bumpy ride so far. But now we should have the belief back. The club, the fans, the players. This side has now completely smashed down a mental barrier. They have shown themselves that they not only can compete but batter Celtic off the park. Gerrard himself has shown he knows what to do tactically and has sufficient motivational skills. It’s a big day for Rangers, the day they should believe that they can take this title race to the wire, and a day that they showed that as a team and a manager, they are behaving in a way that a Ranger should do. And more importantly, winning games a Rangers team and their manager should be capable of winning.
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