McDonald wins the strikers' battle

Rangers 0 Celtic 1

The festive Old Firm game and possibly the title race on Saturday was defined by two moves, the first involving Kris Boyd, of Rangers, and an opportunity missed, and the second starring Scott McDonald, of Celtic, who seized a moment in the winter sun.

Boyd and McDonald were born three days apart in August 1983, Boyd in Ayrshire, McDonald in Australia.

Boyd has played all his football in Scotland, for Kilmarnock and Rangers. McDonald travelled from Melbourne to England for a break in the Premier League as a teenager with Southampton.

He was then released by a manager who thought he would never cut it (Gordon Strachan), but has rarely looked back since, making hay with Motherwell, and since 2007 with Celtic, whose manager, Strachan, has realised he can cut it.

Both Boyd and McDonald have extraordinary strike rates, ranking respectively second (Boyd) and fourth (McDonald) in the SPL all-time scoring charts. In terms of SPL goals per game, they are not so far apart with Boyd on 0.53 (132 goals in 247 games in eight years) and McDonald on 0.46 (74 in 161 in four).

At lunchtime on Saturday, the statistics became just so many decimal places. McDonald won the test that mattered most.

Boyd's big moment came in the 47th minute when set free on goal by a pass to feet from his captain, Barry Ferguson. Destiny beckoned. If, if, if...

If Boyd were able to wheel away from the looming one-on-one with Celtic's goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, striking his chest in Cantona-esque celebration having buried his 19th goal of the season, then Scotland was his.

If he could score, then the barbs that he could not hack it at the sharp end could be thrown back at his critics. Scotland's manager, George Burley, could start 2009 by tucking into a mound of humble pie and go begging Boyd to reconsider his decision not to play for Scotland. If he could just look up briefly, clock the angle for a diagonal tuck-away and let his prolific muscle memory take care of the rest, Rangers would be in front, surely on course for three points, just a point behind Celtic and with momentum on their side as the new year started. Maybe it was just such a thought that clogged Boyd's brain for a second too long. Certainly something delayed him. He waited, and then he struck the ball straight at Boruc.

Eleven minutes later and a long ball was flying up the other end of the pitch. Georgios Samaras knocked it on. McDonald spun his man, waited for the bounce and cracked a pearler of a volley into the top corner. No messing. No mulling. No hesitation. Game over.

The bookmakers say the title race is over too. Celtic are now widely reckoned to be the 1-4 favourites, with Rangers 3-1 rank outsiders in this annual two-horse race. It is not impossible for Rangers to come back.

There have been close shaves in recent years to say that. Celtic's erosion of a huge deficit in the 2008 run-in is exhibit A. But there is a large body of logic that says Celtic are well on course for four in a row. Unlike Rangers last season, Celtic have no European distractions and there will be no backlog of fixtures to fit in at the end of the season.

Seven points is a lead big enough for Celtic to lose both remaining Old Firm games and still win the title, all other things being equal. Precedent favours Celtic, too, in as much as only once in SPL history have the halfway leaders not won the League.

Celtic are also leading, despite a run of games without some of their best players. They are about to become stronger, whereas it is hard to see, without spending, how Rangers will do the same.

Celtic, above all, have better players, man for man. And more individual match-winners. McDonald is just one, whereas for Rangers, Boyd is the one. Sometimes.

Goal: McDonald (58) 0-1. Rangers (4-4-2): McGregor; Whittaker (Novo, 74), Broadfoot, Weir, Papac; Davis, Ferguson, Mendes, Adam (Lafferty, 62); Miller, Boyd. Substitutes not used: Alexander (gk), McCulloch, Dailly, Niguez, Fleck. Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel (Wilson, h-t), Caldwell, McManus, Naylor; S Brown, Robson, Hartley, Mizuno (O'Dea, 62); McDonald, Samaras. Substitutes not used: M Brown (gk), Vennegoor of Hesselink, Loovens, Crosas, Hutchinson. Referee: C Thomson. Booked: Rangers Adam; Celtic Naylor, Caldwell. Man of the match: McDonald. Attendance: 50,403.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?