Matt O’Riley helps Celtic see off 10-man Rangers to all but secure Scottish title

Matt O’Riley helps Celtic see off 10-man Rangers to all but secure Scottish title

A strange thing happened in December 2019. Rangers came to Celtic Park and won a key match, with supporters present. Celtic recovered that season to claim the Premiership title anyway but the ongoing pattern for Rangers in this fixture is an ominous one.

Quite often, much like here, they do not play especially badly; yet they find themselves unable to find a path to victory. Celtic have gone the entire league season unbeaten in Old Firm games. They will be licking their lips at the prospect of a Scottish Cup final against Rangers later this month.

Celtic are now so tantalisingly close to winning their 12th title in 13 seasons. Any reward from Kilmarnock on Wednesday night will justify the decision of Brendan Rodgers to return to Glasgow. Celtic will be champions on Tuesday, should Rangers stumble again against Dundee.

A punchy Rodgers used post-match media duties to settle some scores. “I have been treated like a novice since I came back here,” he said. “Like this is my first job.”

Rodgers said he took exception to someone claiming earlier in the season he was “going through the motions.” He added: “I am at my work between half past seven and eight o’clock every morning. I don’t leave the training ground until half six, seven. I then go home and will flick the laptop on and go through stuff. So if I am going through the motions, what is every other manager doing?”

Rodgers is well within his rights to jab back. He must, however, recognise that much of the noise earlier in this, the most challenging campaign of his managerial career, came from inside Celtic Park. “It is significant,” Rodgers said of derby glory. “But we are not over the line yet.” When they are, he is unlikely to be quiet about it.

Philippe Clement, the Rangers manager, understands the scenario. “My mentality is never to give up as long as something is possible but I am not naive,” said the Belgian. Clement had no complaints with the red card issued to John Lundstram in first-half stoppage time that fatally undermined Rangers’ hopes. Lundstram needlessly lunged in on the Celtic full-back Alistair Johnston.

Rangers' John Lundstram (back centre) leaves the field after being shown a red card for a foul on Celtic's Alistair Johnston.View image in fullscreen

“I don’t want to see that kind of tackle,” Clement said. “It was totally unnecessary. John is the first one to know he made a mistake.”

Lundstram endured a torrid afternoon. After trickery from Daizen Maeda, the Rangers midfielder bundled the ball into his own net. Celtic were already ahead by that point after Matt O’Riley slammed home from Callum McGregor’s cut-back. In O’Riley and McGregor, Celtic had the two outstanding players on the day. Rangers have no players at the level of this midfield duo.

Before Lundstram’s moment of red mist, Cyriel Dessers had hauled Rangers back into proceedings. The striker headed past Joe Hart from close range after Dujon Sterling met Fábio Silva’s cross. Rangers had earlier shown menace; both Sterling and Silva passed up glorious opportunities to give their team the lead.

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O’Riley had the chance to put Celtic 3-1 up from the penalty spot after Mohamed Diomande was adjudged to have fouled him. A lax strike allowed Jack Butland to palm the ball away. Rodgers said he “did not like” the remainder of Celtic’s performance. Had O’Riley claimed his second goal, Rangers would have feared a trouncing.

There followed all-too typical nonsense in the stands. The Rangers captain, James Tavernier, had to delay taking a corner due to a barrage of missiles being flung at him from Celtic’s ultras section. To be fair to the vast majority of the home support, they audibly told that group to wise up as Tavernier made protests towards the referee.

Maeda thought he had scored a third but was beaten by the offside flag. Adam Idah should have prevailed where Maeda could not but looked every bit the Norwich City loanee when fluffing his lines. Butland appeared in the Celtic penalty area for a stoppage-time corner but Rangers really never looked like restoring parity.

The scale of Celtic’s full-time celebrations showed they know this is a case of having one hand and four fingers on the trophy. Rodgers will have the last laugh towards his detractors. And laugh, he most certainly will.