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?
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?