| 1.1°C Belfast

Rangers edge 10-man Celtic to open 19 point gap at Scottish Premiership summit as Hoops' 10-in-a-row hopes hang by a thread



Rangers' Joe Aribo celebrates what proved to be the winning goal - an own goal by Callum McGregor.

Rangers' Joe Aribo celebrates what proved to be the winning goal - an own goal by Callum McGregor.


Rangers' Joe Aribo celebrates what proved to be the winning goal - an own goal by Callum McGregor.

Rangers are 19 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership after an own goal proved enough to beat 10-man Celtic at Ibrox.

On the 50th anniversary of the disaster in which 66 people lost their lives at the stadium, Celtic had started the brighter but Nir Bitton's red card after 62 minutes proved a turning point, with Callum McGregor's own goal following eight minutes later.

Even taking into account the Hoops' three games in hand on the league leaders, it's not looking good for their hopes of an unprecedented 10th league title in a row, with pressure now certain to return on under-fire manager Neil Lennon.

In truth, it was a tale of two McGregors that came together to put the Gers within touching distance of a first title in a decade.

It might have been a different story had Gers keeper Allan McGregor not pulled off three world-class saves - including brilliant finger-tipping Leigh Griffiths' strike onto the post.

Old Firm specialist Ryan Kent was recalled by Gerrard despite his recent dip in form while Leon Balogun's started ahead of Filip Helander at centre-back.

Lennon opted for Bitton ahead of Shane Duffy to replace the injured Christopher Jullien. Vasilis Barkas was back in goal as he looked to make amends for his part in Celtic's defeat to Gers back in October.

However, skipper Scott Brown was again left out as Ismaila Soro was trusted to start his first derby.

The Parkhead men fired the first warning shot inside three minutes when Callum McGregor strode past James Tavernier before sliding in Edouard.

However, Allan McGregor made the first of his vital interventions as he palmed away before Tavernier blocked the Hoops' McGregor on the rebound.

There was a brief angry exchange between Lennon and the Rangers bench after Alfredo Morelos planted his studs onto Jeremie Frimpong's foot.

But the Northern Irishman had every reason to be pleased with how things were going.

Balogun looked nervy as he headed the ball straight to Turnbull. Griffiths was then teed up but McGregor again came to Rangers' rescue.

Gers were expected to dominate their rivals' narrow midfield down the flanks but instead Celtic's full-backs were the more prominent as Tavernier and Borna Barisic found themselves pinned down by the hungry Hoops' high press.

Rangers finally worked some territory on 20 minutes as Joe Aribo slung a low ball in for Morelos but Frimpong made an important block.

Leigh Griffiths then got away with a barge on Kemar Roofe in the box. Seconds later it was Gers breathing another sigh of relief as McGregor got his fingertips to the ball to brilliantly tip Griffiths strike' against the post.

Rangers were increasingly forced to go long by the squeeze from Celtic, with Kristoffer Ajer mostly eating everything up. Even when Roofe did get across the big Norwegian to flick on just before half-time, Diego Laxalt matched Morelos for pace before putting in a vital challenge.

Bitton flicked a David Turnbull corner wide with the last chance of the half as Rangers were relieved to get in at the break still on level terms.

Gerrard was forced into a change at the break as Roofe was replaced by Ianis Hagi and the Romanian soon flashed a shot across Barkas' goal.

But Rangers got a massive helping hand on 63 minutes when Bitton got his marching orders after tugging back Morelos as the Colombian looked set to dart onto a Tavernier pass in behind.

Lennon took off Griffiths as he shored up his backline by introducing Duffy but Gers sensed blood.

Barisic's shot was deflected wide and from Tavernier's corner, Aribo cut across McGregor's eyeline and the stand-in Hoops skipper could not react in time to stop the ball hitting his shoulder and flying past Barkas.

Celtic substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi pulled the trigger in search of an equaliser but his strike ended on top of Allan McGregor's net.

Duffy went in the book for cynical lunge on Hagi, as did Morelos and Callum McGregor during the following melee.

The final whistle brought a firework display from jubilant Gers fans outside the ground - and an angry snarl from Lennon as he came head to head with Gers coach Tom Culshaw before being dragged down the tunnel.


Belfast Telegraph