IT was a massive turning point in the January 2 encounter at Ibrox that will go a long way to the Premiership title returning to Celtic for a second successive season.
Such is life for defenders, a lot of their good work goes unnoticed while their team-mates’ names emblazon the headlines with their goalscoring exploits at the other end of the pitch.
The colossus that is Cameron Carter-Vickers launched into a blocking challenge in the first game of 2023 that ensured the champions left Govan that afternoon still nine points ahead at the league summit in their pursuit of the crown.
Daizen Maeda had given the visitors an early lead following a lightning thrust through the heart of the home side’s rearguard before his accomplished finish left Allan McGregor stranded.
HAPPY NEW YEAR…Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi celebrate Celtic first goal at Ibrox on January 2.
Two lapses of concentration in the Celtic rearguard shortly after the turnaround saw an extraordinary swing in fortunes as, first, Ryan Kent was given far too much time and space to curl an equaliser beyond Joe Hart and then Carl Starfelt must have realised the consequences of putting in a rash sliding tackle on Fashion Sakala.
The Zambian swiftly went to ground, as is his wont, and referee John Beaton just as speedily pointed to the penalty spot. James Tavernier put all his practice to a good use by smashing the award high into the roof of the net.
The scoreline remained at 2-1 for the home side when they broke forward and Kent shoved a pass in front of Malik Tillman who had a clear sight of goal. It was one of those heartstopping moments where you can’t help but fear the worst.
The on-loan Bayern Munich midfielder drew back his left boot, Hart desperately attempted to spread himself for the anticipated shot – and then Carter-Vickers staged a crucial intervention.
The no-nonsense USA World Cup central defender launched himself into a blocking challenge. Tillman fired in the effort and Carter-Vickers’ boot was right in line to divert the ball to safety.
BLOCKBUSTER…Malik Tillman lines up his shot as Cameron Carter-Vickers prepares to challenge.
JUST IN TIME…Cameron Carter-Vickers flies in to block Malik Tillman’s drive and divert the danger.
If that shot had gone in to put Michael Beale’s team 3-1 up, there would have been every chance Celtic may have lost and their advantage slashed to six points.
Of course, a goal at that stage, around the 70th minute mark, would have changed the entire dynamic of the confrontation. Maybe Ange Postecoglou’s players could have staged a remarkable fightback and netted a couple or even three in the remaining 20 minutes. We’ll never know.
But that courageous lunge and block from the Hoops defender was absolutely vital to the team earning a point that day and maintaining their vastly superior lead at the top.
As I recall, Carter-Vickers allowed himself a small fist pump as he displayed fleeting emotions before getting on with the game.
Kyogo Furuhashi clipped in the equaliser with two minutes of the regulation 90 to go and, of course, it ended all-square.
Naturally, the rock-solid back-four operator hadn’t received a ripple of recognition at Ibrox for his important intervention, but he knew what he had contibuted in a match where Celtic could not afford to lose for so many reasons.
A win that afternoon for the home side would most certainly have acted as oxygen and would have given them belief they could overturn Celtic’s lead.
The point, though, is that Carter-Vickers was quite happy to go about his role in the shadows, away from the limelight. There was no bravado or loud noises from the 25-year-old centre-half.
WHO’S A LUCKY BHOY, THEN…Ange Postecoglou applauds the Celtic fans after the 3-2 derby league triumph earlier this month.
You can only wonder at the racket that may have registered on the Richter Scale from the south side of the city if they had kicked off this year with an unlikely derby victory.
We have already had to listen to so much hoo-ha over the recent weeks from the likes of Tavernier, Sakala, Tod Cantwell and so on who have seen fit to follow their manager who ludicrously labelled his Celtic counterpart “a lucky man”.
We’ve had to put up with daft “other mob” remarks in the midst of an enormous lack of respect for a team who turned around an inexplicable 25-point deficit in the wretched campaign of 2020/21 into a four-point winning margin a year later.
Today, Celtic are 13 points ahead in the league and 90 minutes away from a place in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden on June 3.
The League Cup has already been won and the manager and his players are the brink of an amazing treble, only the eighth in the club’s glorious history.
It’s very praiseworthy stuff – unless, of course, you have connections across the city where the noises coming from that angle seem like the song of the truly desperate.