RANGERS 2 CELTIC 3
THE joyous chant of “ten-in-a-row” cascaded down from the Celtic end as the champions strangled the noise from Ibrox with a remarkable comeback triumph this afternoon.
Brendan Rodgers’ side were forced to play more than half-an-hour of this rollicking confrontation a man short after Jozo Simunovic was harshly sent off in the 57th minute.
Graeme Murty’s outfit must have realised they would never get a better opportunity of beating the visitors for the first time in nine outings.
They’re still waiting.
Celtic got to grips with the game and Scott Brown deserves an accolade for his lung-bursting display throughout a pulsating 90 minutes. The skipper excelled once again as he screened the back four, especially after Simunovic’s red card which led to Rodgers withdrawing Tom Rogic and sending on Jack Hendry as substitute to compensate.
Coincidentally, Hendry was joining his former Dundee team-mate Scott Bain who was making his debut following the late withdrawal of ankle-injury victim Dorus de Vries.
Before the Aussie midfielder departed the proceedings just before the hour mark, he had lit up a corner of Govan with a wonderful goal to nullify Josh Windass’ third-minute strike.
OZ-SOME! Aussie ace Tom Rogic’s left-foot effort sweeps past
Wes Foderingham for the first goal.
Dedryck Boyata, making his first team return since injuring his groin against Kilmarnock on February 3, gifted the home side the advantage with some remarkably slack play.
The Belgian international was sloppy and his moment of hesitation was seized upon by Windass who raced into the box before thumping an unstoppable drive over Bain for a shock opener.
Lesser teams may have thought this was not going to be their day. Certainly, the debutant goalie must have wondered what lay in store – his first touch as a Celtic player was to retrieve the ball from the back of the net.
But he played his part in the leveller only eight minutes later with a well-taken clearance that found Kristoffer Ajer. He knocked it onto James Forrest who placed it in front of Rogic.
He shrugged off the attentions of Bruno Alves as he strode forward purposefully before taking aim from 25 yards and curling a delightful left-foot effort past Wes Foderingham into his top-right hand corner.
What Ibrox noise? The home fans are silent as Rogic races
away after his excellent left-foot effort.
David Bates was injured attempting to stop the Aussie in the build-up and was taken off to be replaced by Fabio Cardoso.
In the 25th minute, the Hoops had the opportunity to take the lead following a Callum McGregor right-wing corner-kick.
The midfielder ignored the debris and objects that were thrown at him to flight over a superb deadball effort that was met by Ajer. However, his header down into the danger area was waywardly fired over the bar by the luckless Simunovic.
Sixty seconds afterwards, Celtic were to rue the miss as the home side snatched the advantage. A low ball from Declan John from the left carried right across the box and Daniel Candeias had the freedom of Glasgow as he appeared at the back post to wallop an effort behind Bain with the last touch coming off Kieran Tierney.
Alfredo Morelos was making a nuisance of himself and, worryingly, he was bullying both Simunovic and Boyata.
Celtic, though, grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck as half-time approached as they chased the equaliser.
In the 39th minute, Rogic zipped over a right-wing corner-kick and Moussa Dembele’s header was pushed round the post by the diving Foderingham.
Moments later, a cross from Olivier Ntcham had the keeper flapping, but he escaped punishment as the ball was hastily booted to safety by a frantic defender.
Then it was the turn of Callum McGregor, following a neat one-two with Dembele, to have an attempt that was once again diverted by Foderingham.
JUST THE LOB! Moussa Dembele stretches to fick the ball in
for the second goal just before the interval.
A minute into first-half stoppage time, the inevitable arrived when the Hoops claimed a deserved leveller.
Skipper Brown, who didn’t put a foot wrong all day, delivered a pass forward of breathtaking accuracy before he was clattered by Candeias who was rightly booked.
Dembele moved off Cardoso and had the slightest of touches before steadying himself and lobbing the ball over the outrushing keeper into the vacant net.
No-one could argue that Celtic did not deserve the goal. The home side had managed two shots on target in the first 45 minutes and, amazingly, they had both found their way into the net with new Bhoy Bain completely helpless.
Mesmerisingly, Windass’ third-minute strike brought about more goals for the Ibrox team than they had mustered for three hours in the two previous encounters against the title kings.
A minute into the second period saw Ntcham hit a 25-yard effort at goal that was both wide and woeful. The Frenchman was taking quite awhile to find his range in this confrontation.
The game blew up, though, in the 57th minute when referee Willie Collum, who has flashed more red cards than any other Scottish official this season, banished Simunovic for what looked like a simple coming-together with Morelos as they went for a high ball.
The standside assistant clearly mouthed “Red card…red card!” as he frantically waved his flag. Collum was quick to accept his advice and immediately ordered the Hoops defender off the pitch.
The same linesman wasn’t quite so quick a few moments later to flag Morelos offside when he was at least two yards ahead of the play inside the Celtic box.
With Simunovic heading for the dressing room, Rodgers sent on Hendry for Rogic and reshaped his team. Eight minutes later, James Forrest, who is still looking for a goal against Sevco Rangers, was replaced with Odsonne Edouard coming on.
And what an impact the French powerhouse had on the outcome of this hectic contest.
Sixty seconds after Edouard’s introduction, Bain made an excellent stop from Morelos following another bad piece of timing from Boyata.
WHAT A WINNER! Odsonne Edouard curls in a magificent
third goal for the gallant 10-man Hoops.
But that was forgotten in the midst of euphoria within a minute when the on-loan Paris Saint-Germain striker got what proved to be the winner.
McGregor passed the ball forward to Dembele who superbly flicked it wide to his countryman on the left touchline.
The raider ambled forward menacingly towards the box before veering inside and whipping an angled right-foot drive past the hurtling Foderingham into his top left-hand corner.
It was a thing of beauty and deserved to win the game for a courageous bunch of players from the east end of Glasgow who refused to roll over.
In the 86th minute, Stuart Armstrong was introduced for his first appearance this year following his hernia operation, but the drama still wasn’t over.
WELL HELD! Debut Bhoy Scott Bain grabs the ball on the line to make sure the champions emerge triumphant at Ibrox.
Two minutes from the end, Windass cut in from the right to crack in a low angled drive for the far corner. Bain threw himself full-length to push the ball away.
It fell to the lurking Morelos who smacked it against the inside of the upright. Bain, miraculously, managed to grab the ball and smother it on the line.
And with that the keeper went some way to earning a long-term contract with Celtic when his loan contract expires in the summer.
So, Rodgers’ men are now nine points ahead with a game in hand and, suddenly, it’s all gone quiet down Govan way.
Title race? What title race?
CQN Man of the Match: Scott Brown
TEAM: Bain; Ajer, Simunovic, Boyata, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham; Forrest (sub: Edouard 67) , Rogic (sub: Hendry 59), McGregor; Dembele (sub: Armstrong 86).
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