Celtic 0 - 0 Rangers: Both sides pass up gilt-edged chances
This was a rarity of a derby in that it was all about Rangers in a manner their followers could embrace and provided another moral victory at Parkhead for Graeme Murty. That the victory could well have been of the real variety is a testament to what the Ibrox manager was able to draw from his side.
Rangers had a fizz about them against a Celtic side betraying clear signs of fatigue in the final afternoon before the winter break. Brendan Rodgers could attribute that to it being their 38th game of a season that started in mid-July. They have played 11 more matches than their city neighbours.
And so, for only the second meeting between the teams since Rodgers’ arrival in Scotland, we were supplied with a genuine contest. Of course, the last time that happened – a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park in March – Murty was in interim charge. Without him at the helm, Rodgers’ men have ransacked six derby victories from an eight-game unbeaten sequence in the fixture. Murty’s promptings ensure he remains the only Rangers manager since Davie White not to suffer defeat in the east end of Glasgow.
Unlike nine months ago, Rangers didn’t just snatch a point. Instead, this time they snatched at chances to snare all three, with Craig Gordon producing two glorious saves in the second half to deny them.
Identifying the notable performers from the encounter reveals how much of an impression Rangers made as they prevented Celtic scoring in a domestic home game for the first time since March 2016.
James Tavernier showed the sort of discipline and desire that was replicated throughout the Rangers ranks. Hisscissors-kick volley three minutes after the break seemed destined to arc under the bar, only for Gordon to find the arm extension and acrobatically tip it over.
On the right of midfield, Daniel Candeias proved equally tireless and engaged, drawing a save from Gordon in the opening minutes. Others like Ross McCrorie, Danny Wilson and substitute David Bates stood up in an environment Rangers have so often wilted in this past season-and-a-half.
Bates was forced on after Bruno Alves limped off midway though the first period, and provided the Ibrox backline with more solidity than had his illustrious Euro 2016 winner.
Rangers had so many men on it; Celtic so many off it. As Tavernier acknowledged afterwards, it warmed them to see the second-half withdrawal of Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele – so often their destroyers last season – following wholly-ineffectual displays.
With the possible exceptions of Kristoffer Ajer and Gordon, there were no stand-outs in the home ranks as Celtic struggled with their passing and fluency aside from a half-hour spell in the ascendancy in the first 45. Even then, the 19-year-old Norwegian centre-back Ajer lost Alfredo Morelos for a header after 68 minutes that the Colombian seem to have directed into the net, only for the goalkeeper somehow to block it with his jabbed-out left leg.
Murty’s men grew further in confidence and yet another terrific Tavernier cross from the right in the 79th minute was headed wide by Morelos with only Gordon to beat.
Murty revealed his players had a bawling match at half-time to focus their minds on the tasks that were proving ever more fraught as the interval approached. On the cusp of that, Sinclair inexplicably swept a shot wide from only five yards out and with the goal at his mercy. Rangers keeper Wes Foderingham had earlier played his part by blocking at the feet of the Celtic winger after he had clawed out a Dembele header.
Rodgers bemoaned the lack of quality in a confrontation he said was all-too-frantic but it was noticeable that his players found the going more breathless than opponents they have become so used to leaving gasping for air.
The tied scoreline will have no effect on the title race, Murty’s hope is that it will set a new standard for the intensity his men bring to games. Considering this Jekyll and Hyde side have been well beaten by Kilmarnock and St Johnstone in recent weeks, that remains to be seen.