Sparkling Celtic put Rangers in shade

Rangers 0 Celtic 2
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The Independent Online

Switching sides in Glasgow is not really an option, but Celtic inflicted the kind of day upon Rangers yesterday which confirm that the role reversal in the city is now truly complete.

Martin O'Neill's side withstood a ferocious Rangers assault on their title credentials at Ibrox, before emerging with the victory – courtesy of Stilian Petrov's early strike and Alan Thompson's solo finale – which stretches their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to seven points.

The first Old Firm derby of the season produced a new twist on a familiar tale. Luck deserted those who craved it, pressure was soaked up before ruthless counter-attacking shredded vulnerable ambition. The only thing was that it was Rangers for whom "the ball never rolled", as Dick Advocaat said ruefully later.

It was like a re-run of those encounters of the 1990s, when Rangers sidestepped past valiant Celtic challenges on their way to nine titles in a row and Tommy Burns was forced to swallow his pride so often after watching his team outplay Walter Smith's side only to fall to the sucker-punch.

"I was gasping for breath at the end," said O'Neill. "That game showed why this fixture is one of the great derby games in the world. It was on a knife-edge until Thompson scored. Rangers proved that they are now back to their best and kept the ball magnificently at times." Rare stuff in Glasgow's tribal arena, but then O'Neill could afford to be magnanimous. This was Celtic's fourth successive win over their rivals and a fifth in six games since O'Neill arrived at Parkhead from Leicester to "pursue a dream." He has been Rangers' worst nightmare and the impressive head of steam built up under Souness, Smith and continued in Advocaat's first two championship seasons has now evaporated.

Celtic ended a seven-year hoodoo at Ibrox when they won here last April and this result ensured back-to-back victories – if not wall-to-wall smiles from the 7,000 Celtic fans – on their rivals' patch for the first time since 1983.

Of course, it would not be an Old Firm game without an obligatory red card – six were dismissed last term – and Lorenzo Amoruso was the fall guy this time, sent off after cutting down Henrik Larsson in the 62nd minute for a penalty which the prolific Swede surprisingly missed.

Before the game, Amoruso personified how pumped-up Rangers were, exhorting the home fans like a baying bull. Rangers had staked their reputation on responding to Celtic's supremacy from last season. They squeezed Celtic back so tightly that the champions almost had a watermark from the Clyde.

However, there was cutting edge to that pressure with Celtic's organisation ensuring that Tore Andre Flo and Michael Mols – back after injury – were held by the triumverate of Joos Valgaeren, Johan Mjallby and Bobo Balde.

Celtic, though, are razor- sharp around the box and they went in front after 13 minutes when Craig Moore foolishly fouled Chris Sutton outside the box. Rangers knew what was coming, but they could not prevent it. Larsson rolled the ball to Petrov and his right-foot shot rifled past the bodies and squirmed through the hands of Stefan Klos for the third SPL game in a row – four, if you count the Champions' League strike against Juventus – and Rangers were chasing their tail.

Rangers' non-stop pressure seemed sure to bring a reward, but Celtic's defensive trio held firm and the closest they came was when Mols got behind Balde two minutes before the interval but volleyed wide.

Mols also allowed a header to go wide after Balde slipped, just after the break and while they had passion, Celtic clung to their prize. Rangers' frustration showed when Moore was booked for scything down Larsson and, when the Swede swapped passes with Petrov just after the hour, his run was halted by Amoruso's trip .

Mayhem ensued with both teams squaring up to each other before Amoruso was sent off. The delay affected Larsson, who allowed Klos to block his kick with his legs. The reprieve was temporary. Klos had kept out Didier Agathe and Paul Lambert in one-on-one situations, but he could nothing when Thompson waltzed past three tackles from the left and curled a right-foot shot in from the edge of the box.

Goals: Petrov (14) 0-1; Thompson (90) 0-2.

Rangers (3-5-2): Klos; Moore, Konterman, Amoruso; Ricksen, Reyna (Caniggia, 66), De Boer, Ferguson (Hughes, 87), Numan; Mols (McCann, 74), Flo. Substitutes not used: Christiansen (gk), Ross.

Celtic (3-5-2): Douglas; Mjallby, Balde, Valgaeren; Agathe, Lambert, Lennon, Petrov (Moravcik 71), Thompson; Sutton, Larsson. Substitutes not used: Kharin (gk), Hartson, Healy, Maloney.

Referee: K Clark.

Bookings: Rangers: Moore. Celtic: Balde, Lambert, Sutton. Sending off: Rangers: Amoruso.

Man of the match: Mjallby .

Attendance: 50,097.

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