RANGERS 1 CELTIC 0
WRETCHED luck almost certainly finished Celtic’s quest for a historic tenth successive title at Ibrox this afternoon. A miracle is now required to get the bid back on track.
The champions dominated for over an hour and the game turned on its head when Nir Bitton was red-carded by referee Bobby Madden after a challenge on Alfredo Morelos.
It was undoubtedly a foul by the Israeli, but the Colombian striker was most certainly not in a goalscoring position as he raced onto a forward pass from James Tavernier wide on the right. It didn’t stop the whistler from reaching for the red card with haste.
And from that moment on, it all went awry for the visitors on an afternoon when it only looked a matter of time before they would get the goal their play deserved.
Two minutes later, Dame Fortune continued to snarl in the direction of Neil Lennon’s men when stand-in skipper Callum McGregor deflected in a Tavernier right-wing corner-kick for the only goal of the game.
Remarkably, Steven Gerrard saw his team win without having a SOLITARY shot on target. If you need luck to win the championship, they might as well parcel it up and hand it to the Govan outfit right now.
The Hoops are now 19 points adrift and even if they win their three games in hand, they will still be 10 behind. They can win the next two derbies, but that will still not be enough.
Simply put, the Parkhead outfit now need favours from other teams if they are to create history. It is extremely difficult to be optimistic about this happening – especially after this confrontation.
Fired-up Celtic dominated the opening 45 minutes, but, alas, had nothing to show for their efforts.
Allan McGregor denied them with two excellent saves, touching one from Giffiths onto the post, and Hoops skipper McGregor left the keeper stranded with a low 20-yarder that edged only a foot or so past the upright.
At the other end, Vasilis Barkas was a mere spectator with the opposition failing to get anything on target.
There was a determined start from Neil Lennon’s men as they pushed Steven Gerrard’s side onto the back-foot with some aggressive play as they seized the initiative.
Only three minutes were on the clock when McGregor sent Odsonne Edouard scampering clear on the left and tried to place wide of the keeper from an angle, but the Ibrox No.1 got down swiftly to push the ball away. It rebounded out and was worked back to the Frenchman, but the linesman was quick to put up his flag for offside.
Three minutes later, McGregor, set up by David Turnbull, was thwarted by his Govan namesake as he thumped in a vicious drive from outside the box.
In between those moments, Morelos clearly stamped on Jeremie Frimpong on the touchline, but got away without a stick-on yellow card from Madden. It was not his last decision that would baffle the visitors.
In the 13th minute, the Celtic midfielder had another crack at goal from 20 yards which left the netminder standing helplessly, but the ball just edged wide of the right-hand post.
Nine minutes later, a breathtaking save from the overworked Ibrox No.1 denied the champions the breakthrough goal.
Some good play involving Turnbull and Frimpong saw the ball land at the lethal left foot of Griffiths. He snapped in a superb drive that looked to be heading for the top corner, but McGregor somersaulted to his right to get a fingertip to the effort to deflect it onto the upright and past for a corner-kick.
Celtic were not to realise it, but their luck was to get even worse on a day to forget in Govan.
Lennon’s side continued to control proceedings after the break, but, annoyingly, moves continually broke down at Christie whose passing was as bad as his shooting. He had two efforts from outside the box that were waywardly high and wide.
On the hour mark, Griffiths and Edouard combined to set up the French frontman, but his low drive was blocked by the lunging Leon Balogun.
Two minutes later, Bitton hauled down Morelos who didn’t need to be invited twice to hit the turf. Another ref on another day may have been content to issue a yellow card – especially with Kristoffer Ajer covering in the centre – but Madden was quick on the draw with the red.
It left Lennon with a major problem as he needed to rejig his formation and he sent on Shane Duffy for Griffiths and Mohamed Elyounoussi for the strangely subdued Turnbull in the 65th minute.
Five minutes later, the home side’s luck went into overdrive when Tavernier swing in a right-wing corner-kick, Joe Aribo got the merest of touches at the near post and the ball struck the unaware McGregor on the shoulder and was directed beyond the helpless Barkas.
Unless there is a sensational turnaround of seismic standards, it was an awful way for the bid for ten to come to a halt.
Four minutes after the goal, Elyounoussi left McGregor standing with a whiplash drive from outside the box, but the ball thundered just over the bar. It was just one of those days.
A minute later, there was a melee after a Duffy foul on Ryan Kent that drew a yellow card, but the home players surrounded the match official in a frenzy to try to get the defender ordered off.
Morelos, who should have been booked early in the match, at last picked up a caution and was withdrawn shortly afterwards before he was compulsory invited to leave proceedings. Glen Kamara escaped any punishment after twice raising his hands to Scott Brown and Ajer, who was easily Celtic’s best player by some distance.
Brown had replaced Soro in the 74th minute and Tom Rogic came on for the unfortunate McGregor six minutes from time.
Football can be a cruel game. That was demonstrated emphatically at Ibrox this afternoon.
TEAM: Barkas; Frimpong, Ajer, Bitton, Laxalt; Christie (sub: Elhamed 72), Soro (sub: Brown 72), Turnbull (sub: Elyounoussi 65), McGregor (sub: Rogic 84); Edouard, Griffiths (sub: Duffy 65).