Howlers all round. Two teams desperate to avoid defeat made football the loser at Celtic Park yesterday as almost everyone on the pitch, and notably the referee, Calum Murray, gave lame accounts of themselves.
Celtic's controversial goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, made two outstanding second-half saves, one of them from a hapless team-mate, to keep the game goalless, but this was no advert for the Scottish game. The pity is it was screened by Setanta and not ITV, because adverts would have been preferable to the action for the most part.
The stalemate means Celtic stay just two points clear of their Old Firm rivals in the SPL, having recently blown a lead of seven points, and the title race remains very much alive. Rangers will be happier with a single point, secured as it was on enemy territory, but their manager, Walter Smith, agreed there were few reasons to celebrate the performance that earned it.
"I felt in the first half we were poor, our possession was poor and Celtic were livelier," Smith said. "I was happier with the second half but this was one of our poorer performances away from home all season." He could find no explanation for the dire quality, besides familiarity. "We play each other four times each season at least and it takes a fair bit to get on top of teams when you know how each other play. Sometimes you need an early goal or something else to lift these games."
In the early exchanges, it looked as if Rangers had come with their attacking heads on, despite Smith's 4-1-4-1 formation in which Lee McCulloch played as a holding midfielder and Kyle Lafferty as a surprise starter alone up front. In the fourth minute, Pedro Mendes and Barry Ferguson combined to feed 17-year-old John Fleck on the left flank. The teenager curled a penetrating cross that would have been dangerous if Boruc had not palmed it clear. And that was where Rangers' first-half threat ended.
Celtic should have scored in the 16th minute but Scott McDonald failed to make contact with a peach of a cross from Willo Flood. Maybe the Australian was jet-lagged: he made a midweek trip to Yokohama to sit on the bench as his country drew 0-0 with Japan in a World Cup qualifier that also featured Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura.
Whatever, McDonald was standing in the goalmouth as the ball came in, clocked it visually, and even snapped his head at it as if to apply the glancing touch it needed to steer it into the goal. But he made no contact. That was Celtic's best chance of the game.
The referee, who was fussy throughout and downright incompetent at times, made the first of a string of truly silly decisions when he booked both Celtic's Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Rangers' David Weir after the Dutch forward had fallen accidentally on the Rangers' goalkeeper, Allan McGregor, and Weir had pulled him up. Later on, Murray gave several clear-cut throw-ins or corners the wrong way. He booked Rangers' Barry Ferguson for pointing out one glaring error, and late on showed his lack of control over events by moving the ball backwards at a Celtic free-kick only because he had failed to move the Rangers wall, as he should have done. When the kick was eventually taken, Nakamura's shot was spilled but cleared.
Rangers were the better side in the second half. Madjid Bougherra's cross put pressure on Stephen McManus, whose attempted headed clearance bulleted backwards at his own goal. Boruc saved well, as he did from Lafferty less spectacularly minutes later. The Pole then made a superb save from Weir's header.
"It's nice to see him making great saves to keep us in the game," said Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, who recently fined his goalkeeper two weeks' wages for assaulting a team-mate, Aiden McGeady, in training. Boruc has made headlines for other slip-ups on and off the pitch this season, but Strachan added: "There's a spring in his step. If you don't like him, that's arrogance, but if you like him, it's confidence."
Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor; Flood (McGeady, 62), S Brown (Crosas, 84), Hartley, Nakamura; McDonald, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Samaras 62). Substitutes not used: M Brown (gk), Loovens, O'Dea, Hutchinson.
Rangers (4-1-4-1): McGregor; Broadfoot, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; McCulloch; Davies, Ferguson, Mendes, Fleck (Miller, 59); Lafferty (Naismith, 75). Substitutes not used: Alexander (gk), Edu, Boyd, Whittaker, Niguez.
Referee: C Murray.
Booked: Celtic: Hesselink, Hartley, Brown. Rangers: Weir, McCulloch, Ferguson, Naismith, Mendes.
Man of the match: Boruc.
Attendance: 58,766.Reuse content