In normal times, there are plenty of things that happen at the end of August. You’re into the last few days of the transfer window and more and more deals are getting done with plenty of juicy rumours to keep you entertained with the business of football. The first international break looms, and any momentum that a team may have built up is temporarily halted, or it might just be the ideal chance for some players to settle into their new surroundings and kick on after a more difficult opening to a season. And, of course, there is an Old Firm derby to look forward to. I’m not sure why this seems to be the favoured time to do so, I guess it’s Sky making sure that they get the biggest rivalry in world football (come at me Boca and River fans!) in early to show extra value in their product. And with good reason. There was the usual level of excitement in the build up, lots of predictions getting thrown around and, for our opponents, a level of hope that they could actually get a win after failing to get any sort of result in the previous 6 attempts. From our point of view, factors out with our control left us with a depleted squad. 7 first team players unavailable, and our manager having to remain isolated. All the hype from the media was about how Celtic would turn up at Ibrox and play this very attacking football, I believe it’s called something cringey like “Ange-ball”, and our defence which has not quite looked at it’s best compared to last season would find it tough to deal with. The reality for us was, when we saw the starting line up, we were concerned. Some who you would normally see us being natural starters have not been on top form up to now in this opening period of the season, others would be playing out of position having not performed at all well so far, and then a youngster in goals who would be experiencing their first home game for the club in very unusual circumstances. We were nervous. But we had the battle fever on.
The crowd, all of which were backing the home side (incidentally Ibrox smelled much nicer as a result I felt) gave the team incredible support, it was spine tingling at points and an amazing experience to be a part of. Celtic would attack but we would nullify their main threats with some frankly outstanding defensive work. We would hit the post, they would miss from close range, it was a fairly even half but we were happy with how we had played. The second half was much more in our favour. Postecoglou’s tactics seem to leave his side rather burst after the opening 45, meaning we were able to dominate the ball and, as a result, dominate the chances. It had the feeling of a goal coming, and it did midway through the second half, when yet again we would take advantage of our superior set piece play and open the scoring. The celebrations in the aftermath, utterly stunning. We looked to add to this but the game would again become more even as they would make some tactical changes that allowed them to have more chances, but our back 5 all did a superb job in dealing with that, with some players standing up and making themselves heroes in what would be yet another Old Firm victory. We were all feeling it. From the final whistle to the many hours of happy celebrations, and I’m sure many were feeling it the following morning as well. What we showed was that despite our side having a number of players missing, and not being on form, we are more than capable of winning games like this. We have the psychological advantage, and that is so hard to win back, we know this all too well. And this team, these players, they have earned our trust to go into the next period of the season and really kick on now. We cannot wait for them to play their next match.
Here is how you rated our players from our first Old Firm win of the season.
Robbie McCrorie – 7.7 (8)
So many fans were hoping that we would have one of our senior goalkeepers back in time for this game, but given they would remain unavailable, this was a great chance for young Robbie to impress the Ibrox crowd and prove he is the future. These kinds of things can go one of two ways. You either make the step up and you look set for a career here, or it goes horribly wrong and you are having to work extremely hard to move past it, if that’s even possible. He has a very assured defence in front of him to thank for only having to be up to the task on a few occasions, but he answered the call whenever he needed to. The key thing for a Rangers goalkeeper is to make sure you are always sharp and ready, as even in the 90th minute a chance could come your opponents way and you need to be ready for it. Late on, Celtic had a few chances which McCrorie would deny with some clever stops. It really felt like a moment that fans were looking at the future, and I’m so chuffed for him and for the club, who have managed his development so well, that he has had this moment and can now be looked to as a future starter, without any question I think. Some may say he was naïve to throw the ball out so late when a player was down and we did not get the ball back, but I think that was purely just a poor show from them.
Leon Balogun – 8.7 (9) – Man of the Match
The lack of Nathan Patterson, with James Tavernier already missing, meant that the only choice we had was to play Leon Balogun at right back. It’s a position he has played in the past, and he featured there a couple of times last season, but in the few games he has played this season, he really did not impress. He was the name that fans outside the ground were saying “really not sure”, more so than McCrorie. And plenty fans of both sides believed that this would be to the benefit of their forward Furuhashi. As it turned out, it was the perfect outcome for us. On numerous occasions, Balogun put in perfect challenges against him, sliding for the ball and ending up winning a goal kick from it. Their forward ended up very isolated on the left, and playing a centre back at right back was, from a tactical point of view, so the right call. We know fine well this would not have happened had the squad not suffered a Covid outbreak, but players need to take chances when they are offered them, and Leon 100% took his chance. He was impossible to get past. He was always making the right defensive decisions. And he played like someone with a point to prove, and he proved it. No matter what happens the rest of his career, he will always have this game to look back on and be immensely proud of.
Connor Goldson – 7.1 (7)
The skipper for the day has had a tough old start to the season. The imposing presence has not been as present, but he does enjoy these occasions and, of course, we remember his contribution in the first Old Firm tie of last season. Like last time, he had a couple of chances to score but he could not convert either of his headers in the box. There were a few long ball attempts which had a less than favourable success rate, but the thinking behind those passes was fair. He won more defensive battles than he didn’t, although there were a few times players would get by him, although that never led to anything. He didn’t stand out, but he did his job and you could see what it meant to him when we reached full time.
Filip Helander – 8.1 (8)
Here’s a fact for you. Filip Helander had the least touches of any outfield player who played the full 90 minutes. But, one of those touches was the deciding moment in the game. Having done so well in the first half from a defensive point of view, giving their forwards no chance when coming up against him one on one, he would come forward for a corner in the second half. The ball was perfectly placed for him to attack, and rising above his countryman playing for the other side, he smashed a header which the goalkeeper had no chance of preventing going in. He’s been such an important defender for us since he has been here, and he is someone that fans were worried would not start this game having played on Thursday (perhaps our lack of right back forced the management’s hand on this) but he really showed from a defensive perspective why he should absolutely play whenever he possibly can, and of course he is a threat from set pieces too!
Borna Barisic – 7.3 (8)
Fans were concerned that the emotions of Barisic at full time signalled a potential departure from Ibrox in the closing days. We of course now know that this is not the case at all, and I believe this was a case of him realising that he had found his level again and was just overcome with joy at the fact. He was so much better here than in previous games. He looked a threat down the left, but he also was disciplined and stopped them having any real threat down their right hand side at all. And then you have the key moment, his corner which he delivered brilliantly, just right for it to be met by our defenders head instead of being claimed by the goalie. I loved his actions toward the fans right before it as well, it was a real sign that the good Borna was back, and for him to play that ball in right after was just perfect. Remember this feeling, Borna. Keep that bottled up and play like this again once you’re back from Croatia.
Glen Kamara – 7.0 (8)
I’m a bit surprised that Kamara is not rated higher than he has been, if I’m honest. I think that he did his usual clever moves in the middle which helped us win that battle up against far more attacking midfielders. He won the ball back on plenty of occasions, he moved the ball well whether through distribution or dribbling, I felt it was his usual solid display which he so often provides in the big games. Any midfield needs someone like Kamara in there to just keep things simple, but flash a bit of brilliance now and again to get things going. He’s so good. And I’m so happy he is staying.
Steven Davis – 7.4 (8)
Your players like Turnbull and Christie will still be waking up in a sweat remembering what it was like to try and get passed Steven Davis. So much so that the latter has moved to as far south of the Britain as is possible. Where he gets this level of fitness I’ve no idea (go on Timmy, mention coffee, and thanks for reading this, I’m sure you’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so far). But he is just so vital in getting things going. In the second half, our attacking play, he is orchestrating that with his passes and also his movement, urging those in front of him to push on. You need guys like Kamara in your midfield, but we cannot be without Davis in these matches. For what we want to do and how we go about it, he is just so crucial. And he did a really good job once again.
Joe Aribo – 6.9 (7)
This was your classic Joe Aribo playing the middle performance. It had some good moments, but ultimately he doesn’t offer the same threat as what he does when more advanced, which he immediately was as soon as he moved up the field. He doesn’t defend the ball well, and too often players can exploit that and steal possession from him in the middle. One of the reasons why he plays better further up is because he goes into this mode where getting the ball off of him becomes impossible, because it sticks to his feet like Velcro. He is probably going to find himself playing in that position more often than not given what options are where. I expect him to play really well in games where we don’t need to dominate the midfield. In games where we do, he will likely suffer for that, and that’s when I wonder if guys like Bacuna may step up.
Kemar Roofe – 6.6 (7)
You felt that this game was made for him. He would be fresh, ready to go and be that extra spark of quality that can often be decisive in these match ups. In the end, he only had one effort at goal which didn’t test the keeper, and as much as his movement kept their defence guessing, he didn’t cause them enough problems in the end. It’s a shame in that sense but he’s always worth playing as if the ball falls to him in the right place you’re so sure he will capitalise. It just didn’t fall for him this time.
Alfredo Morelos – 6.8 (7)
He will be utterly delighted with the result but I’m sure he will also be looking back on his own contributions and thinking he could do better. A couple of efforts in the box which, if you look back at them, should probably have been played across goal. That being said, he was brought down a number of times so clearly they see him as a major threat, as they should. He probably does well to stay on for as long as he did, but like Roofe he would keep their defence guessing in terms of where he was going to go, and is still by far the best option for that position.
Ryan Kent – 6.6 (7)
I wonder whether the context of his fitness plays a part in how we judge Ryan Kent here. A hamstring issue which most players would immediately be ruled out for, but Kent was so desperate to help the team that he played through the pain. As a result, he failed to have that moment where he would beat a man and set up a chance, but he did not hide at all. Plenty of shots, one of which hit the woodwork in what was our best goalscoring opportunity in the first half. To have played nearly the full game with the issue he had was rather remarkable, and he should be applauded for doing everything he could help the team in the condition he was in. The idea of him with that attitude at full fitness will scare many. It certainly excites us though.
John Lundstram – 5.8 (6)
For someone who has been knocked a lot by the fans since his arrival, it seems only right that he get a lot of credit for coming on and showing some good moments in terms of the midfield battle. Very good at winning the ball back, doing the simple things and making himself a bit of a presence in the centre. There is still a player there, and maybe if he is given enough time to work out how he can make the best contributions within the system we play, we will get a lot more benefit from him in the future.
Fashion Sakala – 5.1 (5)
It’s been a while since we saw him appear, and it was only a brief appearance in which he managed a shot on goal which was stopped by Hart. He will have to work hard to start up front, which I think is the intention for him, so lets see what he brings to the table post the international break.
Scott Arfield – 5.0 (5)
Very late sub on to basically see out the game with the fresh legs and given we got the result, I reckon it was a good call from the coaching staff.