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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Matthew Lindsay

Celtic 2 Rangers 1: Kyogo Furuhashi screamer sends Brendan Rodgers' men eight clear

GOALS from Paulo Bernardo and Kyogo Furuhashi ensured that Celtic ran out narrow 2-1 winners against Rangers at Parkhead today and surged eight points clear of their city rivals at the top of the cinch Premiership table.

Bernardo put Brendan Rodgers’ team in front at a Luis Palma corner in the first half and Furuhashi doubled their lead early in the second with a stunning long-range strike.

James Tavernier curled in a free-kick with just two minutes of regulation time remaining to give the Viaplay Cup winners  the chance to salvage a draw – but their opponents held on to triumph.  

It was the first defeat that Philippe Clement, who had gone 16 games unbeaten since taking over at Ibrox back in October, had suffered as manager.

Rangers, who had Leon Balogun sent off after they had fallen two behind, still have two league games in hand to play against Hibernian and Ross County and will only be two points behind the league leaders if they win them.  

However, the defending Scottish champions were the better of the two sides today and deserved to pick up all three points at the end of the 90 minutes. Here are five talking points from the second Old Firm game of the season.

Another McGregor masterclass

Rangers’ hopes of getting a result received a boost before kick-off when both centre half Connor Goldson and central midfielder John Lundstram were declared fit by Ibrox medical staff.

Goldson had picked a slight groin strain towards the end of the win over Motherwell on Christmas Eve while Lundstram had been sidelined with an ankle injury since the league encounter with St Johnstone 10 days ago.

The presence of the former alongside Balogun in the heart of the Clement’s defence increased the visitors’ chances of nullifying the considerable threat posed by Furuhashi.

However, it was the unexpected return of the latter, who had been one of the Govan outfit’s most consistent performers before he suffered his knock, which really gave Rangers supporters cause for optimism.

The Englishman was left on the bench in the 1-0 defeat the Ibrox club suffered at the hands of their city rivals at home back at the start of September and Michael Beale’s men were schooled by Callum McGregor in the middle of the park.

But the Scotland internationalist and Celtic captain once again dominated today. He was cool in possession, initiated attacks and broke down opposition forays upfield. He led by example from kick-off to the final whistle and was a worthy recipient of the Man of the Match award. 

Centre of attention

The loss of Cameron Carter-Vickers saw Stephen Welsh return to the Celtic starting line-up for the first time since the Champions League group game against Feyenoord earlier this month.

The Scot had acquitted himself superbly in that outing and helped his side to finish a disappointing campaign on a high with a morale-boosting triumph. Could he rise to the occasion in difficult circumstances once again?

Ross McCausland and James Tavernier dovetailed well going forward down the right flank early on and the young Rangers winger played a dangerous ball into the Celtic six yard box which Hart did well to clear.

But Welsh stopped the Northern Ireland internationalist in his tracks soon after with a perfectly-timed sliding tackle wide on the touchline. He also showed good composure under pressure when Jack Butland found Cyriel Dessers with a long ball upfield. He dispossessed his rival effortlessly.

His involvement, though, ended soon afterwards. He suffered a shoulder injury sliding in to beat Dessers to an underhit Alistair Johnston pass and had to be replaced Maik Nawrocki after failing to respond to treatment.  

It was the first time the Polish defender, a £4.3m signing from Legia Warsaw in the summer, had been sighted since the Viaplay Cup defeat to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park way back on August 20.

Any nerves he might have been feeling would have been settled when he made a good challenge on Abdallah Sima. He gave a decent account of himself thereafter.

The same could not be said of his opposite number Balogun. The Nigerian internationalist received a straight red card from referee Nick Walsh with 19 minutes of regulation time remaining when he allowed Daizen Maeda to get through and then shoved the winger over.  

Third time lucky for Bernardo

The Portuguese midfielder, given the nod to start alongside McGregor despite the return of Reo Hatate, squandered two excellent scoring chances as the hosts, slowly but surely, started to exert control on proceedings.

He headed a Palma chip wide of the right post and then hit the side netting from distance when he really should have got his attempt on target. The Benfica loanee, though, made amends at a Palma corner when Sima nodded straight to his feet. He kept his volley down well and broke the deadlock.

The 21-year-old opened his account for Celtic against Dundee at Dens Park on Boxing Day. His second strike in as many games will do his cause no harm whatsoever and make it tough for Hatate to reclaim his place.  

Penalty kick call

Rangers responded well to falling behind and Celtic had their goalkeeper Hart, who denied first Todd Cantwell and then McCausland, to thank for keeping them ahead.

The league leaders also looked to be in serious danger of conceding a penalty just before half-time after Johnston handled inside his own area as he wrestled Sima for the ball. Replays of the incident showed the right back clearly punched it out.  

Play was momentarily stopped as VAR official Willie Collum reviewed the incident over at Clydesdale House. It appeared at first glance to be a stonewaller. But Collum felt that Johnston’s hand had not been in an unnatural position when it made contact.

But the Senegalese forward had been in an offside position when Lundstram played him in and no penalty would have been awarded even if Collum had felt it had been a handball.

Kyogo cracker

The Japanese internationalist has not been at his brilliant best up front of late. But he ended his seven game drought in the 2-0 triumph over Livingston last weekend. And he showed he was back on form when he netted his side’s second early in the second half in some style.

He picked up the ball from Matt O’Riley just outside the Rangers penalty box, took a step to the left of Goldson and rifled and unstoppable shot beyond the outstretched Butland and into the top right corner of goal.  

It was the seventh time he had been on target in seven appearances in the fixture and took his tally for his club in the 2023/24 campaign to 10. It is also proved to be the winner. It is little wonder the Celtic fans adore him.

The return of Israeli winger Liel Abada capped an enjoyable afternoon for the home supporters.  

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