While Celtic totally controlled the first half at Ibrox yesterday, Newco’s defence held firm and largely limited the visitors to shots from the edge of the area. Leigh Griffiths’ effort from that distance was touched onto the post but over the 90 minutes there was not a single chance where an attacker from either team should have scored.
Steven Gerrard made changes at halftime that made marginally reduced Celtic’s advantage, but not so much as to permit his side an attempt on target, even after Celtic were reduced to 10 men.
Nir Bitton played well until his red card. He and the impeccable Kristoffer Ajer brought authority and control to the game as they circulated the ball for Celtic. A momentary lapse that allowed Alfredo Morelos to collect goal-side of him saw Bitton grapple his opponent to the ground. Referee Bobby Madden waved his red card in a flash.
Morelos was in a wide position, Ajer, who had already demonstrated his pace by catching and overtaking Newco’s fastest player, Ryan Kent, was covering in a central position. The Laws of the Game ask referees to make a judgement on whether he thinks the covering defender would be able to make up the ground, Madden decided to show Morelos the advantage.
Madden also showed Morelos the advantage five minutes into the game, when the Columbian stamped on Jeremie Frimpong’s Achilles in an off the ball incident. Madden awarded Celtic a foul, but used his discretion to keep both cards in his pocket when many expected a red card. The referee determined the outcome.
Celtic conceded fewer chances yesterday than in any game in months but the goal came from a familiar failing – corner kicks. A ricochet struck Callum McGregor and flew past Vasilis Barkas, who had little else to do all afternoon.
The game was lost for a few reasons: despite our control of play, Newco’s defence stood firm, we did not get into the box or hit the bye-line often enough. Bobby Madden had two decisions to make and you could bet your mortgage he was not making them in Celtic’s favour. Despite the unfortunate nature of the own goal, we again conceded from a corner.
Had we lost and played in the manner we had in our previous three games against Newco the verdict would be straightforward: the better team won and is firm favourite to take the title. I don’t think that is the case, instead, it has taken us until now to make the correct selection and formation decisions against them.
A must-win game was lost, leaving Celtic 19 points clear with three games in hand. Newco are a club who find it difficult to get trophies over the line. They are defensively solid, but I think their league position flatters them. There is work to do for both teams.