Nacho Novo was almost literally sent to Coventry 13 months ago by Paul Le Guen. Yesterday the little Rangers striker celebrated his reprieve by silencing Celtic with two goals that allowed Walter Smith to maintain his stranglehold on this explosive fixture.
A diving header midway through the first half and a penalty 12 minutes from time, with a Barry Ferguson goal sandwiched in between, ensured that Rangers not only wiped out the lead held by their rivals in the Scottish Premier League, but delivered yet another injection of self-belief ahead of Tuesday's vital Champions' League meeting with Barcelona at Ibrox.
Novo had been experiencing his own mini-exile under Smith, who has now won all three of his Old Firm games. A rotation policy has kept him on the margins – top scorer Kris Boyd was consigned there yesterday – but Novo made the most of his fortune yesterday. "I was really surprised to play because I had not even been on the bench recently. That was hard to take but the manager has a difficult job to keep everyone happy. Now I hope I have done enough to play against Barcelona. To play against a top team from my country is a dream."
Gordon Strachan, though, is left with only nightmares. Not only were Celtic outfought by their rivals but Stephen McManus was rushed to hospital to have an X-ray after a clash of heads with Daniel Cousin and Strachan's captain is now doubtful to travel to Lisbon on Wednesday for the Champions' League tie with Benfica.
"It is difficult to think about Benfica just now," said the Celtic manager. "I have to get over the pain of losing this first. The better team won. Rangers took their chances and we did not. I think some of our Old Firm debutants were surprised by the nature of this game. We told them it would be a bit tasty out there. Well, they know now."
Novo opened the scoring in the 27th minute. The ball whipped in from the right flank by Alan Hutton seemed harmless but Gary Caldwell left it and Novo nipped in on the blind side of Darren O'Dea to plant a diving header past Artur Boruc.
Jarosik might have restored parity just before the interval but for a fine save by McGregor, touching the Czech's fierce shot over the bar, but when Jarosik sliced a volley wide early in the second half, it was costly.
Rangers struck again, in the 55th minute, when Cousin's cross was headed out by Caldwell to Lee McCulloch, whose venomous shot was blocked by John Kennedy but with the ball trapped at the substitute's feet, Ferguson pounced to stab a shot past Boruc.
Novo completed Celtic's agony in the 78th minute. Charlie Adam's run into the box saw him brought down by Evander Sno and that allowed Novo to bury the penalty.Reuse content