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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Ronnie Esplin

Celtic take control of Scottish Premiership title race with hard-fought Old Firm win over Rangers


Philippe Clement’s first Old Firm game ended in his first defeat as Rangers boss as goals from Paulo Bernardo and Kyogo Furuhashi gave Celtic a 2-1 win at Parkhead.

The Belgian had gone 16 games unbeaten since taking over from Michael Beale in October but, with no away fans inside the ground due to an allocation dispute between the two clubs, this was always going to be the acid test for the injury-hit visitors.

The Ibrox side started the game positively before Hoops midfielder Bernardo scored after 25 minutes, with the Gers missing at least a couple of good chances to level.

Celtic’s prolific striker Furuhashi curled in a second from 20 yards less than two minutes after the restart and there was more woe for the Light Blues in the 71st minute when defender Leon Balogun was shown a straight red card by referee Nick Walsh for denying Daizen Maeda a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Rangers hung on and skipper James Tavernier fired in a wonderful free kick in the 88th minute but the comeback could not be completed in the eight added minutes.

Brendan Rodgers’s side move eight points clear of their Glasgow neighbours at the top of the Scottish Premiership and despite having played two games more, the victory could be the springboard to yet another title win.

It was wall-to-wall green and white inside the packed-out 60,000-capacity stadium for the lunchtime kick-off and, as expected, Hoops centre-back Stephen Welsh replaced the injured Cameron Carter-Vickers, with fit-again duo Reo Hatate and Liel Abada back on the bench.

Furuhashi fired home Celtic’s second goal early in the second half
— (Reuters)

Defender Connor Goldson shrugged off a groin issue and John Lundstram returned to the midfield for Rangers, who gave as good as they got in the early stages. But in the 12th minute, as the game began to ebb and flow, Bernardo headed a Luis Palma cross past the far post.

Rangers were getting behind the Celtic defence but could not capitalise, with Abdallah Sima’s wild drive over from the edge of the box after 20 minutes a prime example.

Bernardo drove just past the post from a similar distance but moments later, when Palma’s corner from the right ended up at his feet 16 yards out via the head of Sima, the on-loan Benfica player volleyed it powerfully past Gers keeper Jack Butland.

However, there was a huge let-off for the home side on the half-hour mark.

A slack pass from full-back Alastair Johnson saw Rangers striker Cyriel Dessers dispossess Welsh to go through against keeper Joe Hart – but inexplicably, he dawdled rather than take his shot and allowed Johnston to get back with a recovery tackle.

Welsh had injured his shoulder in that tackle by Dessers and was immediately replaced by Maik Nawrocki, whose last game was in August.

Ross McCausland and Todd Cantwell both had efforts for the Govan side which should have brought a leveller, and then Clement was shown a yellow card for disputing a decision.

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers congratulates substitute Maik Nawrocki at full time
— (Action Images/Reuters)

A possible Rangers penalty for a Johnston handball came to nothing after a VAR check spotted an earlier offside against Sima.

Gers would have considered themselves unfortunate to still be behind at the break but, in the 47th minute, Furuhashi took a pass just outside the box from Matt O’Riley and bent an unstoppable shot past the helpless Butland to change the complexion of the encounter.

Kieran Dowell replaced Cantwell and Scott Wright took over from Sima as Clement tried something new, while David Turnbull came on for Bernardo just before Balogun was dismissed for taking Maeda down as he raced clear on goal, with centre-back John Souttar coming on for Lundstram in a reshuffle.

A third Celtic goal did not arrive and instead, Tavernier set up a nervy ending when he curled a trademark free-kick from 20 yards past the flailing Hart at his near post.

It was an anxious end to the game for the home fans as Rangers went all out for the leveller, but ultimately to no avail.


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