The new manager was a virgin to the Old Firm cauldron. Watching two of his experienced men, Alan Thompson and Neil Lennon, administered red cards will have stripped Strachan of any naïveté. "Next time I would hope to play with a full deck of cards," said Strachan, cryptically. He was powerless once Thompson was sent off after just 22 minutes for cutting down Nacho Novo. It was Thompson's first foul of the game and the referee Stuart Dougal's decision abruptly killed any chance of a meaningful contest.
Celtic's 10 men toiled in the sun for 70 long minutes, conceding goals to Dado Prso and Thomas Buffel on either side of the interval that sealed the first derby success of the season for the Scottish Premier League champions.
The frustration, though, lingered and Lennon, who was recently appointed captain, was another surprise recipient of the red card as he shook hands with several Rangers players, ostensibly for something he had said to Dougal. That uncorked a furious response from Lennon, who had to be manhandled away by team-mates as he confronted the official.
So, strike one in the new chapter of this 117-year-old emnity, now in the hands of two friends, goes to his old pal, Alex McLeish. The Rangers manager admitted later that Thompson's dismissal had been the turning point.
"The sending-off definitely gave us an advantage," said McLeish. Strachan refused to condemn Lennon. "There are two sides of the story," he said. "The referee will report Neil but it was a private conversation and there's no one to back him up - there will be only one winner in that situation." This was the midfielder's third red card in the combustible atmosphere of the Old Firm meeting.
Yet, while it is impossible to view the game in any proper context because of Thompson's departure, there is little doubt that McLeish looks more likely to win the title than his old Aberdeen team-mate. He has a formidable weapon in Prso, whose hunger and tenacity give Rangers an edge. However, it is the Croatia striker's skill that eclipses every other attribute.
Prso took advantage of Celtic's numerical disadvantage 12 minutes after Thompson's exit, with a well-timed run to meet a fine cross from Marvin Andrews. Prso crucially got in front of defender, Stephen McManus, and thrashed a fierce volley past goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
Before that, Strachan's team had been playing the more fluent football, but were left to rue a remarkable miss by Bobo Baldé on the half-hour after the defender was picked out by Shunsuke Nakamura, but somehow from six yards, his header went down and then up over the bar.
The £2.7m purchase from Reggina was marginalised by an occasion in which he was one of eight debutants and Strachan hooked the little playmaker after 53 minutes to make way for the zest of Shaun Maloney.
By that stage, Celtic were two behind as Buffel showed impressive skill and tenacity to gather Peter Lovenkrands' pass and squeeze past McManus and Baldé before steering a shot beyond Boruc.
Maloney's tireless running earned a reward in 86 minutes as he drew a rash trip from Ian Murray. The substitute coolly sent Ronald Waterreus the wrong way, but before any comeback could be mounted, Prso fell theatrically when he brushed past Stilian Petrov and Novo drilled his penalty under Boruc's body.
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