CELTIC 1 SEVCO RANGERS 1
THERE were sensations all over the place at Celtic Park this afternoon.
The champions didn’t destroy Sevco, Moussa Dembele didn’t score and the referee didn’t award a stick-on penalty-kick!
Fact is often stranger than fiction, right enough.
Match official Bobby Madden will not want to see the ‘tackle’ from Clint Hill on Leigh Griffiths in the 90th minute that he deemed unworthy of a spot-kick.
Originally, the Ibrox centre-back tried to hold back the Hoops substitute as he stormed into the box.
That failed and then he lunged across Griffiths inside the area as the striker was pulling back his left foot for what would almost certainly have been the winning goal.
Hill got none of the ball and a lot of the frontman as he thundered into him and sent him crashing to the ground.
Penalty? Not to Madden or his assistant. If that is not the illegal prevention of a goalscoring opportunity, then there is no such thing. Put simply Celtic were cheated.
Of course, it was a spot-kick, but the match official clearly didn’t think so and that decision must make you question his ability as someone who should be allowed to take charge of top-flight football games.
Clearly, though, it wasn’t Celtic’s day.
The equaliser three minutes from the end illustrated that fact quite demonstrably.
To be fair to Sevco, they were making an effort to pull something back as the final whistle loomed.
Emerson Hyndman took advantage of Callum McGregor’s absence in the box to drive a low shot at goal.
Craig Gordon, as he had done a couple fo times previously, was equal to the task.
He spread himself full-length to his right to get a fingertip to the ball to send it away from the net.
As luck would have it, Hill was loitering at the back post and, with Mikael Lustig slow to react, the Ibrox defender raced in to tuck the ball home from a yard out.
He then celebrated in the net with Kenny Miller liked his team had just won the Champions League.
Hardly. They are still 33 points behind Celtic who only need to beat Dundee and Hearts in their next two games to make certain of their sixth successive crown.
The Ibrox side are closer to Inverness Caley Thistle at the foot of the Premiership than they are Brendan Rodgers’ men at the top.
Plus they are now eight points adrift of second-placed Aberdeen.
Celtic might have known fortune wasn’t exactly smiling in their direction on the half-hour mark when Stuart Armstrong struck the post.
The industrious midfielder, who had to go off in the 73rd minute with a slight calf strain to be replaced by Griffiths, fired in a wicked 25-yard free-kick that looked destined for the keeper’s bottom right-hand corner.
Wes Foderingham sprawled and got the merest of touches to the effort to send it onto the upright and past for a corner-kick.
Gordon, in fact, had made an excellent save just two minutes earlier when a flick from Kenny Miller was missed by Dedryck Boyata and Martyn Waghorn was given a clear run-in on goal.
He took his time before thumping a low left-foot drive at goal, but the Hoops No.1 stretched out a foot to divert the ball from the danger zone.
The English striker had already been booked at that point for clattering into Nir Bitton who was forced to remain inside at the interval with McGregor coming on in his place.
In the 35th minute, Parkhead erupted when Armstrong got the goal his relentless play deserved.
Jason Holt miscontrolled a ball across the box and James Forrest seized upon it.
Neatly, he touched the ball inside and Armstrong arrived right on cue at the edge of the box to strike a left-foot sizzler low past Foderingham at his post.
Bewilderingly, referee Madden blew for half-time only three seconds beyond the 45-minute mark just as Celtic were about to take a corner-kick on the right.
Considering the game had been stopped three times for him to adminIster yellow cards to three Sevco players – Danny Wilson and James Tavernier were the other culprits – it would be reasonable to assume there might have been at least a minute of added-on time.
Not according to Madden, though, which may – or may not – come as surprise to anyone who watches this bloke officiate.
There were little argument when Hill became the fourth visitor to be yellow-carded when he brought down Dembele in the 52nd minute.
A minute later, Kieran Tierney nutmegged Tavernier as he surged down the left before sending over an inviting low ball.
Unfortunately, McGregor’s timing was right off and he took a fresh-air swipe at the ball and the opportunity was lost.
In the 56th minute, Scott Sinclair set up Dembele, who had scored in the previous three games against Sevco, with a clever reverse ball, but Foderingham made a smart save as he touched the ball past his far post.
Twelve minutes later, Armstrong belted in a beauty from 25 yards, but the Ibrox goalie made an excellent save as he hurtled to his right to push the ball away.
In the 69th minute, Brendan Rodgers sent on Patrick Roberts for a tiring James Forrest who had found it difficult to shake off Lee Wallace.
Two minutes after that, Celtic got a scare when Miller was allowed to race on to a long ball down the left.
He cut it back and Erik Sviatchenko permitted Waghorn too much room as he attempted to knock it beyond Gordon.
Thankfully, the keeper read it perfectly and managed to block the effort from close range.
Skipper Scott Brown, who raced around to great effect all day, was booked for hauling down Waghorn.
Ten minutes from time, Lustig joined him the book after two back-to-back nonsensical decisions from Madden.
Jason Holt cleared fouled the defender as he crash-tackled him on the wing, but the referee astoundingly waved play on.
Holt then sent a rasper just wide of Gordon’s left-hand post. If that had gone it, there would have to have been a steward’s enquiry.
Lustig complained and was immediately yellow-carded by the bald official.
The best was yet to come, though, when he turned a blind eye to Hill’s blatant foul to send Griffiths collapsing in a heap in the fading moments.
Looking at the positives, this draw might be just the reminder – if one is needed – that Celtic cannot take their eye off the ball when the clubs meet again in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden next month.
Lessons will have been learned today.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton (sub: McGregor 46); Forrest (sub: Roberts 69), Armstrong (sub: Griffiths 73), Sinclair; Dembele.