Lennon finds vindication as Celtic hit the top
Celtic 1 Rangers 0
Thursday 29 December 2011
What glory there was, on a night that was often frantic and merciless, belonged to Celtic. They had to establish their doggedness, but once they turned to being enterprising they exposed Rangers' shortcomings.
The home side found their reward in moving to the top of the Scottish Premier League, but the more significant blow might be in confirming their rising authority while their oldest rivals continue a period of alarming form.
Rangers were 15 points ahead in the title race last month, albeit while Celtic had two games in hand, but now they are left only with a bitter sense of regret. They were overcome here on a windswept occasion, and although the visitors could rue the fact that the match officials failed to see that Lee Wallace's header had crossed the line early in the game, Rangers could muster only the most paltry resistance once Celtic had taken the lead. It was the inadequacies of the Ibrox side that were exposed.
"I've seen it and it's definitely crossed the line," said Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager. "Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. We have to take it on the chin. At half-time I told the boys, 'you can't afford to drop any level of concentration', but we did that and it cost us the game. We switched off and found ourselves a goal behind."
Both managers sought to be bold, trying to force the encounter to bend to their will. Rangers' early adventure was almost justified when Wallace met Sone Aluko's cross with a header at the back post and Fraser Forster, the Celtic goalkeeper, clawed it away. No Rangers players appealed for a goal, but television pictures suggested the ball crossed the line.
"It wasn't a goal," said a deadpan Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. He could be arch because his team grew in stature, and their resilient nature allowed them to eventually establish themselves as the more dominant side. In James Forrest, Georgios Samaras and Victor Wanyama, they possessed the game's prominent individuals, and there was an expectation that Rangers' nerve would falter after their recent poor run of results.
A culprit is often singled out, and Kirk Broadfoot carried a hapless air. Deputising for the injured Steven Whittaker, the full-back was forever troubled by Forrest's quick feet, and early in the second half the Celtic winger left him looking aghast before hitting a shot that McGregor tipped over. From Charlie Mulgrew's resulting corner, Joe Ledley rose above Broadfoot to head the ball into the net, and Celtic were closing in on their ninth consecutive league win.
"I thought we were in the ascendancy, without being brilliant," Lennon said. "I knew we had it in us to go on a run like this. I can't ask any more of the players, they've been brilliant." McCoist also had to deal with reports that Queen's Park Rangers have submitted a written bid for Nikica Jelavic, the Croatian centre-forward. "It's news to me," he said wearily, "but I still think this squad is good enough to retain the title."
Celtic (4-4-2): Forster; Matthews, Rogne, Mulgrew, Ledley; Brown, Kayal (Ki, 77), Wanyama, Forrest; Samaras, Hooper (Stokes, 86). Substitutes not used Zaluska (gk), Wilson, Cha, McCourt, Bangura.
Rangers (4-4-2): McGregor; Broadfoot, Bartley, Bocanegra, Papac; Aluko (Wylde, 66), Davis, McCulloch (Edu, 79), Wallace (Healy, 79); Jelavic, Lafferty. Substitutes not used Alexander (gk), Weir, Fleck, Wylde, Bendiksen.
Referee W Collum (Glasgow).
Sandaza lifts Saints
With Motherwell's game against Dunfermline postponed due to wind damage at Fir Park, St Johnstone closed the gap on third place in the SPL to two points thanks to a 2-0 home win over Kilmarnock, Francisco Sandaza getting both goals. A glaring miss from Aberdeen's Rory Fallon allowed Hearts to escape from Pittodrie with a 0-0 draw, while struggling Hibernian were held 1-1 at home by Inverness.
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