Sunday’s Old Firm game was Scottish football at its very best. The two biggest clubs going head-to-head and giving it everything in a great advert for our game North of the Border.
Rangers arrived at the game full of confidence believing they could upset the odds, with some people strangely writing off Celtic as a team who had lost their way a bit in recent times.
The first half epitomised all that Rangers carry in a threat, which has rarely shown in a game of this magnitude in recent seasons, but Celtic showed great spirit when going behind twice. Both teams left nothing on the pitch, which is what both sets of supporters demand as a minimum.
With the game finely poised at 2-2 the turning point was the deserved sending off of Celtic’s Jozo Simunovic after 57 minutes. He clearly used his elbow to get in front of Alfredo Morelos and Willie Collum rightly showed him a red card.
Then it was up to the managers to show their expertise and earn their money. Who would make the right substitutions to give their team a crucial edge?
Rangers manager Graeme Murty hesitated for me and left it as it was, Morelos playing as a lone striker while Brendan Rodgers sensibly withdrew a midfield player in Tom Rogic for an attacker. He put on striker Odsonne Edouard in attempt to carry a threat and to win the game, a bold and positive change. The reason behind it is that when you have only 10 men you have to sacrifice some part of the pitch but still be able to affect the opposition.
Brendan decided he’d give up the wide areas and yes that allowed crosses into the Celtic box, but with a physically imposing back line of Hendry, Ajer, Boyata and Tierney he was confident they could cope. The main part however, was that with Edouard partnering Dembele it would keep Rangers defenders on their toes and if they over committed in attack Celtic could hurt them.
That’s exactly how it panned out with Edouard scoring a winning goal he will never forget and repaying his manager for his inspired game plan.
Murty then acted by bringing on Jason Cummings to partner Morelos, but it was more a reactive substitution to the goal as Celtic had gotten the upper hand. It was too late and he’d missed a trick to drive home their extra man advantage before the winning goal.
Celtics game management and experience then shone through for me as they managed to see out the game. Yes, they had their moments of luck and good fortune, but with sheer determination and bravery they deserved it.
So what have we learned from the game?
Rangers have improved no end and genuinely can compete with Celtic in one off games. Murty was critical of his team’s performance after the game, but when the dust settles he will be buoyed by a lot of what he watches.
They have two more Old Firm games on the horizon and they will relish them rather than fear them. They are growing together and getting closer.
For Celtic and Brendan Rodgers winning with 10 men against their rivals is the perfect way to answer any critics out there.
They showed great character in adversity and mental toughness when it mattered. Brendan has more experience of the big occasion than Murty and it showed with the match winning substitution. His players have more experience than the Rangers ranks and that showed also as the game wore on, but they will be aware in up coming games that Rangers are a real threat to them and wont take them lightly that’s for sure.
Overall Scottish football is alive and kicking, keep it coming!