CELTIC 2 RANGERS 1
SLICK goals from Odsonne Edouard and James Forrest swept Celtic THIRTEEN points ahead at the top of the Premiership in their bid for an eighth successive title at Parkhead this afternoon.
It was an explosive encounter in the east end of Glasgow that saw Alfredo Morelos red-carded for an elbow in the face of Scott Brown in the first-half.
And, remarkably, Ryan Kent delivered a left-handed punch to the skipper’s jaw, but the on-loan Liverpool winger, who scored with his side’s only shot on target, escaped after the incendiary incident was missed by all four match officials.
The champions, too, ended the game with 10 men when Dedryck Boyata limped off in the 74th minute after Neil Lennon had already all three substitutes in Scott Sinclair, Tom Rogic and Jeremy Toljan.
Celtic had to rely on an 86th-minute strike from James Forrest to get the points in a towsy confrontation that should have been out if sight long before the 63rd-minute leveller from Kent.
It was a game that thundered along from the opening minute with Steven Gerrard’s men realising they had to get something or their season would surely end with that last toot of the referee’s whistle.
FRENCH FANCY…Odsonne Edouard strikes the opening goal with Joe Worrell and Connor Goldson too late to intercept. Scott Brown gets a good close-up view.
The opening goal from Edouard was a thing of beauty and emphasised the close control and running power of the Frenchman.
Forrest sliced open the visitors’ rearguard with a first-time pass following the breakdown of a Gers free-kick.
The winger, who was clearly in the mood right from the off, set the flamboyant free just inside the Celtic half and Edouard simply swept away from the cumbersome Connor Goldson as he zeroed in on the target.
He bamboozled Joe Worrell with a change of feet and took it to his left before thumping an unstoppable drive away from the stranded Allan McGregor.
It was an excellent piece of combination play from the 21-year-old £10million ace whose very presence must terrify the Ibrox side given his track record.
A CUT ABOVE…Kristoffer Ajer following a clash of heads with Joe Worrell.
Unfortunately, he provoked a yellow card from referee Bobby Madden for his celebrations with the fans.
Jonny Hayes had already been booked by the match official for a tough challenge on Kent that sent the winger spinning.
However, the fates of Edouard and Hayes paled into insignificance in the 31st minute when controversial Colombian hitman Alferdo was sent off for the FIFTH time this season.
This time the striker thumped an elbow into Brown’s jaw in and off-the-ball flashpoint which was clearly seen by the assistant referee only yards away.
The Hoops skipper went down after the cowardly assault from the Ibrox player. No-one could have been surprised when the red card was produced and Morelos trudged off and now faces at least a four-game suspension meaning his season is just about effectively finished.
OFF YOU GO…Scott Brown has no words of consolation for bad boy Alfredo Morelos.
WHACK…Alfredo Morelos thumps an elbow into the face of Scott Brown off the ball.
THUD…down goes the Celtic skipper after being felled by the lash from the Colombian.
Celtic had the opportunity to open the scoring in the third minute when a flick from Hayes gave Ntcham an opening smack in front of goal, but his effort was beaten away by McGregor.
In quickfire succession, Lustig missed a right-wing cross from Forrest and then McGregor fisted away a 20-yarder from Edouard.
In the 16th minute, Ntcham, who wasn’t up to speed after a three-month lay-off, muffed a chance on the edge of the box after being set up by Forrest.
The game had to be halted for a couple of minutes after Kristoffer Ajer took a dull one from Worrell as he attempted to get his head to a right-wing corner-kick from Hayes.
Then came the breakthrough goal from Edouard which was followed seven minutes later by a dramatic diving save from McGregor to push away a rasping angled left-foot drive from Tierney.
Scott Arfield went into the book for clattering McGregor who had clearly been pinpointed as a dangerman by Steven Gerrard.
Ross McCrorie escaped a similar fate when he went straight through Boyata on the touchline in an action that had Neil Lennon more than a little animated.
Sinclair replaced Hayes for the start of the second-half as Celtic looked for the killer second goal that would end the game as a contest.
And how close they came close. McGregor sent Sinclair running clear and his low shot hit the inside of McGregor’s left boot and luckily deflected about a foot past the post.
And then the keeper was left helpless when Lustig blitzed in a 25-yarder, but the ball zipped just wide of the right-hand upright.
A goal just had to come – and it did in the 63rd minute. Amazingly, though, it was for the Ibrox side with their first shot on target.
The Celtic left side was shredded with a simple one-two between James Tavernier and Daniel Candeias that sent Kent running in on Boyata. He muscled his way past the struggling Belgian and carried on before thumping a low effort at goal.
Scott Bain stretched and got a foot to the ball, but, alas, couldn’t prevent it from being diverted into the far corner.
THE EQUALISER…Ryan Kent thumps the leveller beyond the helpless Scot Bain.
Apart from a few hundred travelling fans, Celtic Park was struck silent.
Rogic had already replaced the toiling Ntcham by this stage, Toljan was on for the limping Tierney and the Hoops found themselves a man short when Boyata went off in the 74th minute. McGregor moved to left-back with Lustig coming in to partner Ajer with the on-loan Borussia Dortmund man going to right-back.
It was all set up for another exciting finale and once again the champions responded to the challenge.
McGregor seized upon a loose pass from Tavernier, moved it forward to the ever-dangerous Edouard who slid the ball across for the rampaging Forrest.
The attacker had threatened all day and it was no surprise when he had the final say with a crisp finish beyond the outrushing Gers keeper.
THE WINNER…James Forrest is surrounded, but still fires the second and points-clinching goal beyond Allan McGregor.
And that was the end of the goaslcoring, but not the end of the fisticuffs when the cameras caught Kent delivering a straight left to the jaw of skipper Brown.
He escaped punishment from referee Madden, but he can be certain a retrospective ban is coming his way. He and Morelos will have plenty of time of their hands as the season rolls down in Govan.
IN THE BLUE CORNER…Ryan Kent thuggishly lashes out at Scott Brown in another shameful off-the-ball incident.
There was a rammy at the end with Andy Halliday leading the usual suspects, but, once the smoke of battle cleared, one thing was certain – the Premiership crown is heading back to its home at Paradise for the eighth successive year.
TEAM: Bain; Lustig, Boyata, Ajer Tierney (sub: Toljan 73); Brown, Ntcham (sub: Rogic 64); Forrest, McGregor, Hayes (sub: Sinclair 46); Edouard.