Our first match of 2021 saw us face our rivals at Ibrox, on a date that was so poignant for our club. 50 years ago, in the same fixture, 66 supporters would not return home, and their memory was honoured in wonderful fashion by the media, the club, and the team both before and after the match. The set up for this game was straight forward really. They had to win. If we won, the chances of them winning the league would reduce significantly. A draw would still make things difficult for them. And they started the game like a team who knew that. It was an ultra attacking set up, which the team struggled to match, and had it not been for an outstanding goalkeeping display, we would have been behind at the break, there is no question of that.
But the fact that we remained level gave me a lot of hope, as there was no way that they could continue at that pace, nor that we would be that bad. Fresh legs helped even things before a vital moment in which they were reduced to 10 men, correctly, and at that moment you knew that they were not going to win the game. All we needed was to find a goal from somewhere, and we found it from a set piece which found it’s way into the net via a deflection from the Celtic captain on the day. Our management of the game was ultimately what won the day. We made the right tactical decisions at the right moments, handled different periods of the game far better, whilst they could not find an answer to going behind and when those famous words “Shane Duffy is staying up front” are uttered, you know that the game is done. Whether that applies to the league, I will choose to have the same attitude as the squad. One game at a time. Just keep winning.
Here is how you rated our players following our third straight Old Firm win.
Allan McGregor – 9.3 (9) – Man of the Match
During the 1990’s, there were many Old Firm clashes that followed a similar trend to this one. We, as the dominant side, would go into the game as favourites only for that lot to come out all guns blazing looking to get a foothold in the game. They would press higher, and create a lot more chances, but would time and again be foiled by the greatest goalkeeper that we have ever had to date, Andy Goram. This performance from McGregor was the equivalent of Goram at his peak. When the rest of the team were not able to gain that influence on the match, the goalkeeper was able to keep us in the tie, in the hope that we could make the breakthrough ourselves. Early on, a scramble that required sharp reactions from McGregor in the area really set the tone for the half. He does really well to ensure the ball does not get past him there, but this was not the highlight of his afternoon. That came when a shot from edge of the box looked set to curl in, but McGregor reached to tip it behind for a corner, with the ball clipping the post on the way past. This save should be included in all highlight reels of his Rangers career when that concludes, for both its quality and its importance. It is the kind of save that demoralises an opposition, and that we went into the break at 0-0 was the only real positive to take from the half, and that was thanks to our goalkeeper. Celtic failed to test him in the second half, and once we went ahead he knew his role was to let the clock run down at all opportunities. This was a truly outstanding performance from him, and a small shout out to his distribution as well which I thought was excellent. It is common for fans to talk about the “Mount Rushmore” of goalkeepers and who ranks higher than who. Whichever of the four has been best for you, there is no question that this performance was one of the best from a modern keeper in the Old Firm derby.
James Tavernier – 7.0 (7)
With Neil Lennon setting his team up the way he did, the hope was we could use our wide players to get forward and, given how good he has been this season, this was surely going to play into the hands of our captain. However, due to the high intensity set out in the first half, it was not feasible for Tav to get forward as much, and his first half was made up of trying to defend his area, as well as an important block on the line during one of the early Celtic opportunities. The second half is better for him though and he is the assistant of the two key moments for us. His ball he plays along the right hand side for Morelos to run to is brilliant and had it not been for Bitton brining him down as he did, it would have been a clear run through at goal, a great goal-scoring opportunity. His corner from the right is what leads to the goal as well, so technically that is another assist for him.
Connor Goldson – 6.8 (7)
He had to be switched on for the whole of the first half with the number of opportunities Celtic were looking to create, and there would have been a Goldson of the past that would not have been able to handle the pressure. But he has grown up so much in his time with us, and even though it was not the best of performances, he still made some important contributions, including a vital knock away just before half time. He is in charge of dealing with Edouard and although he looked more threatening than his strike partner, he did not win his battle with Goldson ultimately.
Leon Balogun – 7.4 (8)
I was surprised by the inclusion of Balogun in this team. I thought that Helander was the obvious player to have in the side as I rate him higher as a defender. The myth around Helander being slow is only there because Balogun is faster, and actually it was the right call, we needed that extra speed and his defensive shift was the best he has put in for us I think. Yes, there were a couple of heart in mouth moments but all the same, he made some important interventions and I am not sure Fil would have reached some of the balls that Leon got to. He made a really important block in the second half which would have been the only test for McGregor had he not been there. Massive credit to the management on this one, a move not many of us would have made but 100% the correct call.
Borna Barisic – 6.5 (7)
I think the reason why the rating for Barisic is less is down to the fact that their right back got forward more than their left back. Clearly the task fell to Borna to deal with that and it was a harder shift for him. Nevertheless, they did not cause any damage to us on that side anyway so we must credit him for doing his job ultimately. And from an attacking sense, he hits a free kick which looked to be going in but for the intervention of the wall, the ball going out for a corner which resulted in the goal.
Joe Aribo – 6.1 (6)
It’s such a weird thing trying to sum up Joe Aribo’s day. His performance overall was way below what we need from a midfielder in a match like this, yet his involvement is vital to the goal that is scored. It was a terrible first half from him, that relaxed attitude on the pitch is not something that will ever be accepted from a support in an Old Firm match and had a crowd been there it would have been similar to the last he played against Celtic at Ibrox. He was not using the space on the pitch enough and seemed way to eager to get rid of the ball as soon as he got it in the midfield, which would always lead to them gaining possession back. It was like playing with a man down sadly, and how we longed for a Scott Arfield to be in there to do the exact opposite and help restore balance to the midfield area. But, one thing that is useful about having Aribo in the team is an aerial presence from set pieces, and although his header attempt is scuffed off his back, it does enough to deviate the ball for it to knock off Callum McGregor into the net. It was not a good game from him, not at all, but his involvement was all the same important.
Steven Davis – 7.1 (8)
The work rate that they were putting into the first half was the same as what Steven Davis showed through out the entire 90 minutes. This was such a magnificent show of determined running and anchor play. He doesn’t just sit and wait for the ball to find him, he makes the effort to push forward and close down when required, knowing he has midfielders alongside him who will cover him. I was in awe at how he was still going so late into the second half, always covering the lines. They go on about their new holding midfielder as if he is the new N’golo Kante. Trust me, you’ve a long way to go before you reach the heights of Heart and Hand’s own Steven Davis.
Glen Kamara – 7.1 (8)
In a similar way to the covering that was done by Davis, I think Kamara also does this, as well as some neat touches on the ball which, in other games where opposition are less inclined to really shut our player down so quickly, could have been far more threatening. But for some loose touches of the ball once he gained possession, it would have been viewed as a decent first half from him, as opposed to one where you would say, like the rest of the outfield players, that he struggled a bit. But it was a lot better in the second half and we saw the classy moves and controlled play that has made him one of the most important players in our side.
Kemar Roofe – 5.4 (6)
A real shame that Roofe was not able to make the impact we felt he could have made on this game due to the fact he was struggling with a knock which in the end meant he would be off at half time. Hopefully he will be back fit before long, although it did help change our tempo for the better so it was one of those situations you can put down to a “happy accident” I suppose.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.9 (6)
It really is amazing how much of the attention falls on Morelos in these matches. So much of the “independent” reporting is focussed on Alfie in the build up and, more often than not, the aftermath. This search for the first Old Firm goal continues, he had an effort in the box that was blocked by their defence in the first half, our only real threatening moment of the opening 45 minutes, but he could very well have got a goal around the hour mark. An excellent through ball from Tav looked set to send Morelos on course for goal, but he was cynically brought down by Bitton. Had Alfredo got away from his man he would have been one on one with Barkas, a CLEAR AND OBVIOUS goal scoring chance was denied, and the red card produced by Brother…I mean Bobby Madden was the correct decision. This idea that “because it’s Morelos it’s not a chance cause he canne score against Celtic” is just stupid, remember who the keeper is, there is every chance that he scores against Barkas. A vital moment, and when he was targeted as someone to be sent off with the introduction of Brown (who I am convinced was brought in purely to try get Morelos sent off) he had his teammates’ backing and that trick was not going to work. The fact we won will more than make up for the fact he has to wait a bit longer to get that goal, which will hurt their fans more than you can possibly imagine.
Ryan Kent – 6.1 (6)
The speed of Ryan Kent, in the same way that the pace of Balogun was preferred, returned to the team for this match, but like much of the attack, Kent had little influence in the first half, although his runs looked the most promising all the same. Getting a hold of the ball and bringing it forward, you just wondered whether he may well get that chance, but he too often felt the need to cut inside way too soon and the momentum was lost. The second half threats all came from our right so his involvement was limited, and given the performance of players who came into the attack during the game, you wonder whether he will definitely feature from the start in the next few games.
Ianis Hagi – 7.2 (7)
The introduction of Hagi made total sense to the support, and his effort from the get go was clear. A shot from the edge of the box, though it went just wide, showed that there was more desire to get at this side in the second half, and really for the whole second half I thought the work he put in was excellent. He had a difficult period in the first half of this season, but it is clear that he is one of the most in form players in our squad, who I would suggest should be starting the next few games.
Cedric Itten – 6.0 (6)
I’m not sure his role is solely to just come on for Morelos, but when he did he did well in his limited time on the park. He hit a shot from the edge of the box which looked set to sail in but just went over. That would have just topped it off for me, and when you see him playing like he did here, it gives me continued confidence that the future of our front line will have him at the heart of it.
Bongani Zungu – 4.9 (5)
As I predicted, he comes in to see the game out in the centre of the park.
Brandon Barker – 3.2 (5)
I wonder if his inclusion was simply a troll at the troll. Either way, he has now made 25 appearances for the club, which is nice milestone for him to reach.