Rangers hosted their fierce rivals Celtic at Ibrox on Saturday looking to inflict their first league defeat over the Hoops in 10 games.
A breathless first half saw Rangers snapping into tackles, pressing with incredible ferocity and causing Celtic no end of trouble with their pace and trickery.
A mixture of Craig Gordon’s brilliance in goal and the woodwork initially kept the home side at bay, but Ryan Jack finally put Rangers ahead on the half-hour mark after some great work down the left by Liverpool loanee Ryan Kent.
Steven Gerrard didn’t let his side put their guard down there, though, and the Gers continued to put immense pressure on every Celtic player, forcing uncharacteristic mistakes from the likes of Scott Brown and Mikael Lustig; Celtic were very lucky to head into half-time just 1-0 down.
The second half was more of the same, with Rangers looking fitter, faster and stronger than Celtic and not dropping their levels for a moment; in truth, Rangers could have extended their lead had it not been for more heroics in goal from Craig Gordon.
Celtic finally started to create some chances late on, but some brave Rangers defending kept the Scottish champions at bay and gave their Glasgow rivals a famous 1-0 win.
Here are five things we learned from an electrifying Old Firm derby that has fired Rangers right back into title contention.
1. Rangers intensity destroys sluggish Celtic
So many recent Old Firm derbies have looked like men against boys, with Celtic absolutely taking Rangers to pieces and bossing proceedings. Saturday was a complete reversal of what has become the norm in Glasgow, with Rangers looking well-drilled, durable and mesmerising in attack.
Steven Gerrard is the first Rangers manager to beat Celtic since Brendan Rodgers took charge of the club.
The Apprentice becomes the Master. 🎓 pic.twitter.com/7u3mT1X8n2
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 29, 2018
Gerrard has obviously worked really hard on Rangers’ fitness to install a high-pressing system, and it showed here; the Ibrox side were at it right from the off, snapping into tackles and hounding normally-unflappable Celtic players into panicked errors.
This paid huge dividends for Rangers as they totally dominated proceedings, having 53% of possession and 14 shots to Celtic’s seven.
2. A day to forget for Scott Brown
Scott Brown has so often been the man for the big occasion for Celtic over the years and was arguably the best player on the pitch when the Hoops downed Rangers 1-0 earlier this season. Today, however, was certainly a day to forget for the Celtic captain, as Brown had one of the worst games you’re likely to see him have in a green and white shirt.
The 33-year-0ld looked unusually nervous in possession, being harassed into mistakes by the intense Rangers press, and some of his crunching tackles were more in danger of taking off Rangers player’s legs rather than winning the ball – his yellow card was inevitable.
Brown’s misery was complete when Ryan Jack sidefooted a cheeky effort between his legs on the half-hour mark, with the ball deflecting slightly off Brown and going past Craig Gordon for 1-0.
The second half didn’t get a great deal better, either, with Brown unable to gain a foothold in midfield as Celtic toiled for a way to get back into the match – this game won’t be one that this Celtic great is remembered for, nor will it live long in the memory of the man himself.
3. Old firm debutant like a rabbit in the headlights
Michael Johnston has been slowly but surely adjusting to life in the Celtic first team this season, scoring three goals in 10 Scottish Premiership games so far.
Saturday, though, was a step too far for the 19-year-old, who looked like a rabbit in the headlights during his Old Firm debut.
Johnston was absolutely marked out of the game by Connor Goldson and Joe Worrall at the back for Rangers and almost every time Celtic tried to get up the pitch, play broke down with the youngster unable to match Gerrard’s defence physically.
There’s obvious talent there with Johnston. If Celtic not been missing so many players through injury and personal problems, he probably wouldn’t have had to soldier through this torrid Saturday afternoon. That will barely be a consolation to him now, though.
4. Gordon saves Celtic from Old Firm embarrassment
For the first time in a long while, Craig Gordon had a very busy afternoon against Rangers.
The home side had no fewer than seven shots on target compared to Celtic’s one, with Gordon equal to all but one of them; even the goal that Rangers did manage to score was deflected away from the 35-year-old as it flicked between the legs of Scott Brown.
The players in front of him may have had an absolute howler on Saturday, but Craig Gordon remains evergreen in goal and was the only reason Steven Gerrard’s side didn’t run away with a cricket score in this electric Old Firm derby.
5. Liverpool loanee leaves Lustig languishing
Ryan Jack may get the glory and the headlines after scoring the winning goal in an Old Firm derby for Rangers, but it was another Ryan who created the chance and had Celtic on the back foot all afternoon.
Liverpool loanee Ryan Kent has been enhancing his profile under Steven Gerrard this season and, with the whole world watching this epic rivalry, Saturday proved to be another advert for his ever-increasing quality.
Celtic right-back Mikael Lustig was unable to deal with Kent’s direct pace and devilish trickery all afternoon and was made to look like a Sunday league player every time the two went toe-to-toe.
This eventually paid off for Rangers when Kent roasted the Sweden international on the half-hour mark, leaving Lustig in a heap on the floor before cutting the ball back to Ryan Jack to fire home, making it 1-0 and ultimately giving Rangers a priceless win.
Lustig had to suffer the embarrassment of being replaced by Anthony Ralston at halftime as Brendan Rodgers desperately tried, and failed, to nullify Rangers’ biggest threat and avoid a first-ever Old Firm derby defeat as Celtic manager.