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?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks