Frayed tempers expose Old Firm frailties

Rangers 3 Celtic 1
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But a smokescreen it certainly was. Because any neutral analysis of the football itself has to conclude that neither side was especially impressive. Rangers were over-reliant on three players - their fulcrum, Barry Ferguson, their attack-minded creator, Thomas Buffel, and their tireless front man, Dado Prso - and seized the initiative only after Celtic were reduced to 10 men. Even then, they allowed a 2-0 lead, secured through Prso and Buffel, to slip to a risky 2-1 by conceding a late penalty, converted by Shaun Maloney, before Celtic reciprocated to create a flattering scoreline.

Ferguson, who sustained an ankle injury, is almost certain to miss Wednesday's Champions' League third-round second-leg qualifier at home against Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus.

Buffel is temperamental and cannot be trusted to provide consistent flair. Prso is a good, goal-hungry player, a ceaseless toiler, but even Rangers' manager, Alex McLeish, acknowledges that the striking burden needs to be shared.

Celtic have shortcomings in all areas, partly because of chronic injuries, partly because Strachan has yet to decide how to assemble a jigsaw of old hands, new foreigners and home-reared youngsters.

In defence, he lacks options and top-class players. In midfield, the talented playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura was squeezed to the periphery on Saturday, and then substituted. Strachan said the reason was that 10-man teams required better communication. Subtext: Nakamura needs to hurry up with his English lessons.

Thompson is something of an enigma. Valuable for his natural left foot and sporadic dead-ball excellence, he can also be invisible, or too visible, although his red-card challenge on Nacho Novo on Saturday would have earned only yellow from a lot of referees.

As for Lennon, the mitigation for his hotheadedness was that he was mercilessly targeted by all in blue, on and off the pitch. But mouthing off to the referee, Stuart Dougal, and jostling him, was unprofessional. "I can't condone that," Strachan said. Dougal's report will arrive at the Scottish FA this morning, and Lennon will be lucky to escape a lengthy ban.

At least Strachan has a plethora of striking options, but that brings its own problems. John Hartson is a banker on the team sheet, but alongside him? Scotland's Under-21 forward Craig Beattie started on Saturday, but is still maturing. Maciej Zurawski was used as a sub but has yet to come good. Chris Sutton is injured. The on-loan Jérémie Aliadière has evidently not forced himself into consideration. And two of Celtic's most exciting assets, Shaun Maloney, 22, and Aiden McGeady, 18, both of whom can operate in midfield or up front, are yet to be given a run in the team.

The Old Firm have shared the Scottish title without serious challenge for two decades. In any given year in that time, Rangers-Celtic would almost certainly guarantee not just heat but the best the domestic scene had to offer. Not on Saturday, when Hearts were beating Aberdeen to stay top with 12 points from 12.

"We don't shout from the rooftops after this," McLeish wisely said on Saturday. "It's not just about us and Celtic this season. We need to be respectful of every other team."

Indeed they do, when the smoke has cleared.

Goals: Prso (35) 1-0; Buffel (51) 2-0; Maloney pen (86) 2-1; Novo pen (88) 3-1.

Rangers (4-3-1-2): Waterreus; Pierre-Fanfan (Malcolm, 72), Andrews, Rodriguez, Ball; Rae (Lovenkrands, h-t), Ferguson, Murray; Buffel; Prso, Novo. Substitutes not used: Klos (gk), Thompson, McLean, Adam, McCormack.

Celtic: (4-1-2-1-2): Boruc; Telfer, McManus, Baldé (Virgo, 87), Camara; Lennon; Petrov, Thompson; Nakamura (Maloney, 54); Hartson (Zurawski, 67), Beattie. Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Aliadière, Wallace, Lawson.

Referee: S Dougal.

Booked: Rangers Rodriguez, Murray, Malcolm; Celtic Hartson, Lennon.

Sent off: Thompson (23), Lennon (90).

Man of the match: Prso.

Attendance: 49,699.

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