Rangers overcame plenty of adversity to clinch a 1-0 victory over OId Firm rivals Celtic thanks to Filip Helander’s brilliant header.
Hit by a raft of COVID-19 cases, with manager Steven Gerrard among those isolating, Scottish champions Rangers still had the better of Sunday’s derby and found a deserved breakthrough in the 66th minute.
Helander met Borna Barisic’s corner with a thumping header to score his first Old Firm derby goal, sending a vociferous, albeit wholly one-sided due to coronavirus restrictions, Ibrox crowd into ecstasy.
Ryan Kent had previously hit the post for Rangers, with Helander’s header punishing the profligacy of Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard, who missed a golden chance midway through the first half as the Hoops’ winless run against their Glasgow rivals in the league was extended to seven matches.
FULL-TIME: Rangers 1-0 Celtic
Three points at Ibrox pic.twitter.com/A2jAnnjgv9
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) August 29, 2021
An enthralling, end-to-end start should have culminated in Celtic taking the lead in the 25th minute, yet Edouard – hunting his eighth league goal against Rangers – somehow skewed wide of a gaping goal from five yards out.
Kent did much better at the other end seven minutes later, beating Joe Hart with a sublime curling effort, but the upright came to Celtic’s rescue.
Playmaker Kent tried another curler on the stroke of the hour, only to send his strike straight at Hart for a comfortable save.
Rangers’ pressure finally told after the hour, however – Helander rising to meet Barisic’s inswinging delivery, with Hart unable to keep out the centre-back’s towering header.
Helander almost went from hero to pantomime villain straight from the restart when his slip enabled Kyogo Furuhashi to steal in, but on his league debut for Rangers, stand-in goalkeeper Robby McCrorie made a fantastic save to spare his team-mate’s blushes and seal victory.
What does it mean? A big, big win for Gerrard
Rangers cruised to the title as Celtic capitulated last season, but the Hoops look a different proposition under Ange Postecoglou, though he has now become the first manager to lose his first league Old Firm derby match in charge of Celtic since Tony Mowbray in October 2009.
Gerrard will have been kicking every ball from home during the contest, no doubt, and given the adversity Rangers have faced this week, not to mention a gruelling trip back from Armenia, it feels like a statement win from the champions.
McCrorie’s nerves of steel
If you are going to make your Premiership debut for Rangers, you might as well do it in the biggest game of all.
Having made his Rangers bow in the Europa League on Thursday, 23-year-old McCrorie came up with two terrific saves in the second half, twice denying the lively Furuhashi.
Edouard found wanting
Only against Motherwell (10) and Hamilton Academical (eight) has Edouard netted more league goals than against Rangers, while the Frenchman – who has been linked with a move away from Celtic before Tuesday’s transfer deadline – had scored (seven) or assisted (three) 10 of the Hoops’ last 14 strikes against their rivals in the top flight.
However, he fluffed his lines in some style on Sunday, missing from point-blank range and a frustrating day for the forward came to an end shortly after Rangers had taken the lead. His miss was his only shot, while he managed just 19 touches in total. If he is to leave Celtic, it would not have been how he wanted to bow out.
Celtic host Ross County after the international break, while Rangers face St Johnstone. Both of those games take place on September 11.
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