Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Draw leaves title in Celtic's grasp

Rangers 0 Celtic 0

Roddy Forsyth

In a week when speculation assumed an almost demented form about the possibility of civil strife associated with this fixture, the Old Firm produced the single outcome likely to exert a tranquillising effect on heated tempers and opinions.

Not that the result satisfied everybody -- Rangers maintained their one-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League, but the title is now Celtic's to lose.

Neil Lennon, of course, was the focus of attention when he emerged from the tunnel before the proceedings got under way.

News that he had been the intended recipient of an explosive device posted in Ayrshire broke last Tuesday night, but the Celtic manager had lived with the knowledge for rather longer and his demeanour was bound to be scrutinised. He was his usual agitated match-day self amid the cacophony that enveloped the kick-off.

Ear-splitting dins are commonplace at Old Firm derbies but the racket booming from the Ibrox stands yesterday was exceptional even for these occasions and it is gratifying to report that the pre-match anthems were all from the a la carte menu of approved versions.

Once again in this record season for Old Firm encounters, there was a contentious penalty decision.

Yesterday's mandatory portion was served up eight minutes from time as Celtic were awarded a spot kick when Craig Thomson -- who otherwise had a sound afternoon -- judged that Steven Davis had fouled Anthony Stokes when the Dubliner ran into his Rangers opponent on the dead-ball line.

If anything, Davis had tried to get out of Stokes' way -- as the Northern Ireland midfielder vehemently pointed out to the referee.

Since Celtic have made a habit of appropriating such decisions when they go against them, one might speculate about how Thomson's call would have been received had he made it at the other end of the field.

The referee must have blushed when he saw what he had done on TV replays but, happily for him, if not for Georgios Samaras, Allan McGregor guessed correctly when the Greek striker attempted to convert.

McGregor dived to his left to push the ball wide for a corner kick.

That was goalkeeper's third crucial intervention of a finely balanced contest. He had previously shown wonderful reflexes to tip a looping header from Daniel Majstorovic around a post and likewise touched a clever chip from Emilio Izaguirre over the top.

From the outset, both teams were deployed in a 4-4-2 match-up. But Celtic were peculiarly lethargic in the early stages and, with Nikica Jelavic -- the best player on display -- looking menacing, it seemed only a matter of time before Rangers would break through.

However, they could not assemble the guile to force the goal they probably merited.

Samaras, meanwhile, grew visibly disgruntled as he was asked to chase a succession of hopeful punts from his downfield colleagues, a task he undertook with almost no help from the anonymous Gary Hooper.

As a consequence of these deficiencies, the contest started to look like a stalemate once Celtic had bedded in.

The only real threat to their wellbeing was Fraser Forster's erratic punching, which could easily have cost them a goal after quarter of an hour when he swiped at the ball and connected only with thin air.

In fact, Forster had almost nothing to do for most of the game because, although Rangers created a series of good openings in the second half, they could not get a single shot on target.

The closest they came was six minutes after the break when Kyle Lafferty stole a march on the Celtic back line and met Gregg Wylde's whipped cross with a full-blooded header that powered narrowly wide.

The final whistle signalled a critical juncture in this Scottish title race.

Celtic now know that if they win their five remaining fixtures, the championship is theirs.

At full-time, Lennon marched towards the Celtic support, applauded them and accepted their ovation in return.

On his way back he produced one of those actions that seems inseparable from what he referred to earlier this week as "my persona" -- and put his hands ostentatiously behind his ears to tell the Rangers fans, who were lustily barracking him, that he could not hear them.

Well, it's not every week the man gets a bomb posted to him and no doubt he felt like letting off some steam. On this occasion above all, however, measured dignity would have been an unanswerable response. (©Daily Telegraph, London).

Irish Independent

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