Title party falls flat for 9-man Celtic
Rangers 3 Celtic 2
Monday 26 March 2012
The two sets of supporters were reduced to goading each other. With the championship already all but decided after Rangers' 10-point deduction for falling into administration, what was left was a turbulent mixture of pride, hubris and gloating.
Rangers fans ironically celebrated Celtic's two late goals, the visiting support reacted at the end as though they had been triumphant, and the visceral nature of the Old Firm rivalry never seemed more exposed.
Celtic arrived knowing that a victory would secure the title for the first time in four years, but they encountered a Rangers side driven by self-respect and the sense of responsibility they felt towards supporters who have known only agony in recent weeks.
The players reacted emphatically enough to avoid the final indignity of losing their title at Ibrox, but they were assisted in that by Celtic's loss of composure.
The right-back, Cha Du-Ri, the defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama and their manager, Neil Lennon, were all sent off, the last banished from the touchline for having words with Calum Murray, the referee, as the teams left the field at half-time.
Lennon watched the second half from the Ibrox media room, and was angry at his treatment by the match officials. "I spoke quietly, I didn't swear, I didn't point my finger, and I have witnesses," he said. "I told him I wasn't happy with his performance, then I was deprived of being able to do my job properly. Who's accountable? I didn't get an explanation. I was told not to sit in the stand for my own safety. That sums things up in this country."
This was a raw, emotional occasion, with both sets of supporters considering it an obligation to pour all of their allegiance into their contribution: the songs, the colour, the sheer, naked intensity. The game was surrounded by such a rousing contest of self-expression that it seemed something more was at stake than the outcome of the Scottish Premier League title race.
With 19-year-old Rhys McCabe anchoring the midfield with poise and awareness, Rangers took command. Sone Aluko was an elusive presence alongside Lee McCulloch up front, and he exploited the space between Celtic's defence and midfield.
He unnerved the visitors, and when he spun to face Thomas Rogne, nutmegged the defender then hared towards goal, it drew Charlie Mulgrew out of position. Aluko side-stepped him and placed a shot beyond Fraser Forster, the Celtic goalkeeper.
Only 11 minutes had passed, and the goal removed any of the fragility of Rangers' mood. The visitors seemed out of sorts, as if disconcerted, and there was an element of panic in the way Cha chased Lee Wallace as he ran on to Aluko's pass, and the Celtic defender's trip saw him shown a red card.
Wanyama was sent off in the 57th minute for a two-footed lunge on Steven Whittaker, with even Scott Brown, the Celtic captain, shouting at the midfielder to leave the field.
Rangers were able to be ruthless, and they scored twice in the space of five minutes to secure the victory, through Andy Little, with his first touch, and Wallace. Celtic's response finally arrived in the 89th minute, when Brown scored a penalty after Georgios Samaras had been brought down in the penalty area, with Carlos Bocanegra, the Rangers defender, being dismissed. They added a second when Rogne headed Kris Commons' free-kick home.
"I won't let the last five minutes take away from their performance," said Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager. "We got what we deserved – a victory."
Rangers (3-5-2): McGregor; Goian, Bocanegra, Papac; Whittaker, Davis, McCabe (Lafferty, 60), Edu, Wallace (Kerkar, 78); Aluko (Little, 72), McCulloch.
Celtic (4-4-2): Forster ; Cha, Rogne, Mulgrew, Matthews; Brown, Wanyama, Ki (Commons, 70), Ledley (Hooper, 90); Stokes (Izaguirre, 32), Samaras.
Referee C Murray.
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