Billy Dodds' deflected shot ensured Rangers took a point away from Parkhead but as those who have studied this 111-year-old rivalry know, battles are not conclusive, the spoils of war remain silverware and Celtic, for all the frailties they have shown at times this season, remain stubbornly clinging to Rangers' coat tails.
The Scottish Premier League now goes into a four-week winter break but John Barnes' side have not been sent into hibernation. The Celtic coach was entitled to appear upbeat after the match and claim his hopes are intact, even though the draw maintains Rangers' four-point advantage.
"It was important not to lose today," Barnes said, "and while we may be back to square one, it would have been tougher if they had gone seven points ahead. We still need Rangers to drop points but we can do that ourselves because we have still to play them twice in the second half of the campaign. I took a lot more heart from this match than I did the previous Old Firm one."
That was a 4-2 beating administered in November which sparked a deluge of pressure on Barnes, but the way the former England player has steadied the ship since then, and found a genuine leader, Mark Viduka, in the absence of the injured Henrik Larsson keeps the issue alive into the New Year.
Viduka, watched by George Graham, the Tottenham manager, whose club has shown a long-standing interest in the Australian, took yet another step in proving that he is flourishing, with an impressive goal that put Celtic in front during a period in which they almost swept Rangers off the pitch.
"You could see that Celtic were up for this," Dick Advocaat, the Rangers manager, admitted later. "They were very sharp at the start. But we have kept a four-point lead and have a game in hand and that is a good way to be going on holiday."
Advocaat might have been heading for the winter break with a few more worry lines on his brow. Viduka struck the base of the post after just nine minutes when Paul Lambert's audacious back-heel allowed him to bend a shot beyond the goalkeeper, Lionel Charbonnier.
Eight minutes later, however, the Celtic striker was on target. Lubomir Moravcik had cleverly found Eyal Berkovic, whose neat pass exposed Lorenzo Amoruso and allowed Viduka to outpace the Rangers captain before steering a right-foot shot into the corner of the net from 14 yards.
The explosion of noise from Celtic's following prompted a barrage on the pitch. The defender Oliver Tebily took his cue and thrashed a fierce shot, which Charbonnier spilled, before Moravcik connected with Jackie McNamara's inswinging cross in the 24th minute and thumped a half-volley against the underside of the bar.
However, dominance rarely lasts long in this fixture and Dodds punctured Parkhead with deadly efficiency just three minutes later. Tony Vidmar spotted the little striker escaping the clutches of Tebily and fed him a fine pass that Dodds swept past the goalkeeper, Jonathan Gould, with his right boot, aided by a deflection off Alan Stubbs.
The adrenalin then passed to the champions, but after half-time Celtic regained some of their momentum despite Viduka labouring with a knee injury. Moravcik deserved better than to see his header in the 65th minute thump off the crossbar, and although Rod Wallace had a shot cleared off the line by Stubbs, there was no doubt which side was happier at the end with a point.
"I thought we were unlucky," Viduka claimed later, "but in the second half of the season, anything is possible and we still have a chance of winning this league."
Celtic (3-4-1-2): Gould; Riseth, Stubbs, Tebily; McNamara, Mjallby, Lambert, Petrov (Blinker, 72); Berkovic (Wright, 83); Moravcik, Viduka. Substitutes not used: Burchill, Boyd, Kerr (gk).
Rangers (4-4-2): Charbonnier; Vidmar, Moore, Amoruso, Numan; Reyna, Ferguson, van Bronckhorst, Albertz; Wallace (Amato, 89), Dodds. Substitutes not used: Kanchelskis, McCann, Nicholson, Myhre (gk).
Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell).
Results and tables, page 19Reuse content