RANGERS 2 CELTIC 0
SLIPSHOD Celtic got lost in a maze of mistakes as they flopped at Ibrox for the second time this season.
They presented their opponents with two goals to fail in Govan on another miserable afternoon to forget. It took the champions until the 83rd minute to get their first shot on target and Oliver Burke failed lamentably with only the keeper to beat.
It could be one of his last actions in a green and white shirt as he heads back to West Brom when his loan contract expires next month.
Neil Lennon, unbeaten in 11 outings before this game, took a chance in fielding both Burke and teenager Mikey Johnston on the wings – and it back-fired horribly.
Neither produced a reasonable or confident performance and it was no surprise when Scott Sinclair replaced the youngster in the 65th minute. Johnston, who also started in December, will not remember his two matches in Govan this term with any fondness and must hope for better days in the future.
Unfortunately, as Sinclair awaited his introduction to the action, Steven Gerrard’s team scored their second goal with the Hoops midfield and defence again culpable.
Questions will be asked and answers sought after a desperately poor performance. Only pride was at stake with the eighth title already in the Parkhead trophy cabinet, but, in truth, this was painful to witness and an all-round embarrassment almost straight from the kick-off.
It doesn’t matter that the home side should have been reduced to 10 men six minutes after the turnaround. Referee Kevin Clancy yellow-carded Jon Flanagan for slamming an elbow into the face of Scott Brown as they lined up for a right-wing corner-kick.
It was certainly a sending-off offence and no doubt the left-back will be in trouble if the SFA look at the incident again.
It was Celtic’s display we were scrutinising today and, frankly, it just wasn’t good enough.
CLASH…Scott Brown and Jon Flanagan come together as they await a right-wing corner-kick.
CRASH…the Celtic skipper hits the deck after copping a right elbow in the face from the Ibrox defender.
It was an awful start by the champions to gift the opposition a goal in precisely one minute and 49 seconds. And what a present it was.
Johnston, starting on the right wing instead of James Forrest who was not risked, gave away a free-kick with an untidy challenge on Ryan Kent. James Tavernier stepped up to take the deadball effort just inside from the left wing.
The defender hurled a right-foot swinger into the box and, remarkably, the ball swept straight past the stunned Scott Bain at his left hand side.
To be fair to the keeper, he must have expected a team-mate to defend the cross at his near post or the central area, but they all watched the flight of the ball carry towards his unprotected corner of the net and right at the start Lennon’s men had given themselves a mountain to climb.
For the first past half-hour, the Hoops were way off the pace and the passing was wayward.
Jonny Hayes was toiling in his emergency left-back role and just couldn’t find his range when he tried to find colleague with a pass or a cross.
Brown, as anticipated, had constant company from either Scott Arfield or Ryan Jack with the the home midfielders never far away from his side.
The captain also struggled to hit the target with forward passes and Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor weren’t much better as the entire team failed to click with any cohesion.
Odsonne Edouard was eager to show as was Burke, but the on-loan forward’s initial touch was often heavy and invited challenges from defenders. And then he contrived to blow the team’s best opportunity nearing the end of the game.
Gerrard’s men played as though the Champions League was up for grabs as opposed to runners-up spot in the Premiership to a team who had celebrated their eighth successive crown the previous week.
WHAT A MISS…Oliver Burke fluffs his close-range shot smack in front of goal.
But they were swift to snap onto the blizzard of slack passes from the visitors. In the 17th minute, Jermain Defoe was fed a pass by Jack after a slack piece of play from Brown, but Bain was right in line to parry the 18-yard effort and hold onto the rebound.
A minute into stoppage time, Rogic gave away the ball in a vulnerable area and it led to Arfield racing onto a Kent pass. Fortunately, Bain was alert to the danger and sprinted from his line to block the midfielder’s close-range attempt at the expense of a corner-kick.
Mikael Lustig, who hadn’t looked in tip-top condition, eventually limped off just before the interval with the Hoops completing the opening period with 10 men.
As expected, on-loan Jeremy Toljan replaced the injured Swedish right-back for the second-half.
During the period it was no surprise to see the ineffective Johnston and Rogic replaced by Sinclair and Olivier Ntcham as Lennnon attempted to salvage something from a fairly dire display.
But they rarely looked a threat in a creative sense and too many soft options came into play with the ball being shuttled backwards and sideways when the fans were urging them to take a chance and commit opponents.
DOWN AND OUT…Scott Brown collapses to the ground after Jon Flanagan’s elbow in the face.
Brown, after being physically assaulted by Alfredo Morelos and Kent and verbally abused by Andy Halliday in the last derby encounter, was then the recipient of a belt in the jaw from Flanagan in the 51st minute as McGregor prepared to take a right-wing corner-kick.
Only referee Clancy will know why the Ibrox culprit was not automatically banished.
The killer goal arrived in the 63rd minute as the Hoops toppled into blunderland again. Glenn Kamara got away from Brown far too easily before slipping a pass forward. Jozo Simunovic and Kristoffer Ajer were both slow to react to the danger and Arfield slid in to toe-poke the ball beyond the exposed Bain.
NUMBER TWO…Kristoffer Ajer mistimes his interception as Scott Arfield runs clear.
On came Sinclair for Johnston, but that change should have made at half-time, at the latest.
In the 78th minute, Bain produced an excellent diving save to his right to push away a drive from Defoe and the Englishman gathered the rebound and clipped the crossbar with the Celtic defence all over the place.
Burke’s miss near the end was so typical of an appalling showing. Ntcham sent Edouard away on the left and he did brilliantly to slip the attention of Nikola Katic to slide the ball across the penalty area.
OOPS…Oliver Burke can’t convert Odsonne Edouard’s low cross with just Wes Foderingham to beat.
Burke found himself with only Wes Foderingham to beat and it looked as though he must grasp the opportunity to throw the team a lifeline. Alas, he completely fluffed his finishing effort and the keeper was delighted to get down to his left to push the feeble attempt to safety.
And, with that extraordinary miss, went Celtic’s chance to take something from a miserable confrontation in Govan.
Things will have to get better in the next two games against Hearts.
TEAM: Bain; Lustig (sub: Toljan 46), Simunovic, Ajer, Hayes; Brown, McGregor; Burke, Rogic (sub: Ntcham 71), Johnston (sub: Sinclair 65); Edouard.