Following a very busy period for our club off of the park, the business of football resumed on Sunday in one of the biggest fixtures in world football, the Old Firm derby. Rangers travelled to Parkhead for our first league game since being confirmed as champions for the 55th time, but there were fears over whether the physical exhaustion of Thursday, and the mental exhaustion since, would have a detrimental effect on the side. The great thing from a fans point of view was there was absolutely nothing riding on the game other than the usual pride you expect from an Old Firm encounter, albeit in an empty stadium. The build up on the day focussed a lot on the events in the Europa League match and how everyone, whether it be pundits, commentators and even our opposition, stood by our players, and stood together rather than taking the knee pre match as the symbol is clearly not strong enough. A credit to everyone involved in that decision to make a louder statement on the biggest stage, here is hoping the authorities will take notice of such affairs.
So, to the match itself. The tempo of the game started off well below what you would normally expect from an Old Firm tie, although both sides were building on opportunities early on all the same. Around halfway through the first half, Celtic started to put their foot on the gas, keeping the ball for longer and looking to expose a weak right hand side of ours. This pressure resulted in the first goal of the game with a cross from their left put into the net via a diving header. The way the game was going, this lead felt deserved (as well as very bloody annoying). Celtic didn’t immediately slow down but eventually the game found an even keel again and this was when Rangers equalised. From an out swinging corner from the left, the ball was knocked on to the one player their fans really did not want to see scoring at their ground, and the tie was level. In all honesty, at half time, many fans would have been delighted at full time no matter what, given the goal scorer in question, but the second half was more positive for us despite the lack of goals. Rangers looked to create a few good chances to take the lead, an opportunity given to us via some great goalkeeping from our end, but luck just was not quite on our side to get the job fully done and dusted. A draw is a result that is very fair given the whole picture. And the chance for our team to get itself ready for a run at the Scottish Cup is one we can look forward to at least, even though a number of our players are now away on international duty.
Here is how you rated our players from the latest Old Firm match of the season.
Allan McGregor – 8.1 (8) – Man of the Match
I had a prediction before the game that we would be sitting afterward saying “Allan McGregor by the way, hero yet again.” Now, as much as that did not quite happen to the extent of January 2nd, it was still a really great goalkeeping performance from the 39 year old, one that again helped us gain the point and continue our unbeaten run. The goal they score is less about what he doesn’t do and more about a few defenders. But, in the first half there were some great close range saves that he made, with reactions like a cat to get to the ball in time. We did not see us much of him in the second half thankfully, but his recognition for man of the match here is absolutely down to the work he puts in in the first half.
Leon Balogun – 4.6 (5)
The talk of Patterson not being fit enough to start this game led everyone to believe that Balogun would take the right back slot for this game, and so it proved. He has looked fine as a right back in some games, but in the last few matches he has featured in, including this one, he has looked out of place in a dominant Rangers team. Celtic did absolutely the right thing in targeting our right hand side because Balogun was looking really up against it. Their forward was able to get by him easily to knock a ball in for them to take the lead, and they continued to look for joy down that side until he was hooked early in the second half, at which point we looked for more secure in that area. People will turn around and defend him on the basis that he is not a right back in the first instance but a centre back. As much as that defence is understandable, the two questions that I would ask in response to that are “wouldn’t we be more secure at the back if it was down to him being out of centre back?” and “when was the last good game he had?” The reality is Balogun, as good a servant as he has been this season for us, is not what the team is going to need going forward. Given the options we have going into next season, including the impending return of an injured Nikola Katic, I would be really interested to understand the justification for extending his deal, and whether that is necessary.
Connor Goldson – 6.4 (7)
Our leader, who has gained a lot of praise from the world of football for how he stuck up for his player, put in a decent enough defensive display over the course of the game I thought. He put in a number of blocks through out the match and even though he did not cover the space that could have potentially blocked the cross leading to their goal, I still think it was a match he did fine in.
Filip Helander – 6.4 (6)
He started the match well and looked like such an upgrade at centre back immediately which was great to see, but as time went on I think he began to struggle a little bit. It was noticeable when he was at risk of losing possession of the ball a couple of times and I think a level of confidence went from him after their goal, even though I thought he did as much as he could in that situation. Overall the second half was a bit better and again an example of why he must start whenever possible, because yet again he has not lost a league game with us.
Borna Barisic – 6.9 (7)
One of our most threatening attacking moves was from the crosses put in from Borna. Given our lack of Tavernier on the other side, the onus has been on him to deliver a dangerous cross for our attack to get on the end of. A few times chances very nearly came about from this, and it was his corner that led to our equaliser. It is a great credit to him that I’m not sure any Rangers fan can imagine our side without Borna in it.
Glen Kamara – 5.7 (7)
Naturally, a lot of focus was placed on Glen Kamara with this game. The manager made it clear that it was absolutely up to Glen whether he wanted to play in this game or not. The character of Kamara is one that means you know he was more than ready to get back out on the field and play football again, because otherwise the racists win. Although there was nothing overly outstanding from him, this was a typically secure Glen Kamara performance in the centre of the park. Strong, intercepting regularly, and looking forward for the right options.
Steven Davis – 6.3 (8)
What you are always looking for in Old Firm games is someone who can control things for you, and there is no one better for that than Steven Davis. Just doing the simple things, covering that area of the park between defence and midfield, and on this occasion, not bursting forward as the game requires more discipline than that. Davo continues to show why he is absolutely a Rangers legend and his contract extension is richly deserved.
Joe Aribo – 5.0 (6)
If you are going to play Joe Aribo in an Old Firm, don’t play him in the middle of the park. The problem is he just doesn’t show enough intensity for the match, the cool, calm, collected style he shows can work but only in certain matches and ties against Celtic are not one of them. How often did you see him chase back when they were attacking? How often did he have the ball and not burst forward with it? He can be so good in games where we have total control because his unpredictability can result in games like Ross County and St Mirren from recent memory. But not in matches like this.
Ianis Hagi – 4.9 (6)
Apart from one lofted ball over the top that very nearly led to one of the greatest goals ever scored in an Old Firm, Hagi’s afternoon was quiet. Now, when the substitution happened and it was either Aribo or Hagi to come off, I absolutely would have taken off Aribo, because as we have seen over the course of the season, Hagi can do something out of the ordinary out of nowhere, so it’s always worth sticking with him. It wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Alfredo Morelos – 7.3 (7)
“Morelos will never score an Old Firm goal. He just isnae good enough. It’s so funny they thought they would get a load of money for him and he is still there and he will never score at Parkhead”. Blah blah blah blah blah. He’s really shut you up now hasn’t he Timothy? (By the way, I know their fans will be reading this, how sad do you need to be to obsess over articles that have nothing to do with your club by the way? What a sad way to spend your life) Anyway, enough about morons. Alfredo Morelos has his Old Firm goal. A corner swung in by Barisic was knocked on and Alfie was there with the simplest of finishes, although do not take away from the fact he had to be quick on his feet to get to the ball. From there, he looked far more relaxed on the field because he has now achieved that, and the booking he received was ludicrous I might add. “Have you seen Morelos score in and Old Firm?” Yes I have.
Ryan Kent – 7.0 (8)
Ryan Kent in Old Firm games is always a joy to watch. The energy and determination through an entire 90 minutes is amazing to see and he is so keen to score or create goals for us. He gave Kenny a horrid time in the game, and what’s more he had a shot from a Hagi ball that was hit sweetly on the volley which, had it gone past Bain, would have been a truly sensational goal. If there is one player you want playing for you in this match, it is Ryan Kent.
Nathan Patterson – 6.6 (7)
As soon as Patterson arrived on the park, the attacks from their left hand side were nullified. The biggest of stages for a youngster to show his worth to the side and there is now no question that as far as right backs go, there are few (if any) better options than young Nathan. An international call up should be imminent, and his future looks very bright with Rangers.
Scott Arfield – 5.6 (5)
Added energy in the centre is what we needed and Arfield’s introduction made total sense. I think if he was on better form he would have started this game but having him as an option to enter the game is still really good all the same.
Kemar Roofe – 4.9 (5)
He had a great chance to score one of the funniest Old Firm goals when a punt from Bain hit his defender before hitting off Roofe. If the ball had been ever so slightly better placed for him I think he has a clear shot at it, and I think it is fair to say that no one can honestly expect him to do better in that scenario. Good to see him back on the field as well as he deserves a lot of support too following Thursday.
Scott Wright – 5.9 (6)
I think we are now at the point where we should be asking about Scott Wright starting some games for us. Every time he has come off the bench he has looked good, and his direct running toward goal here shows he is not afraid to take chances to get goals for us. Like other players in the team, his future looks very exciting with Rangers.