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.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
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

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried