Sunday 17 December 2017

Edu leaves Mowbray clutching at straws

Rangers 1 Celtic 0 Ronnie Esplin

Whatever else Maurice Edu achieves, he will not accomplish anything as momentous as he did in the last few seconds of this spiky contest.

Ibrox was a dominion of fear for much of the game, which was hardly a wonder. How much of a squad there is next season -- and of what quality -- hangs on the outcome of the SPL title race and the entry to the group stage of the Champions League, a perk on offer for the last time for the foreseeable future.

That is why a Rangers corner in the third, and final, minute of added time might prove so crucial.

Scott Brown, the Celtic captain, was shown a red card by referee Dougie McDonald in the 66th minute after wrestling with Kyle Lafferty, who escaped unpunished. But in the dying seconds, Edu fired the ball in from close range to lift his side 10 points clear of Celtic with a game in hand.

Robbie Keane recovered from his knee injury to make his Old Firm debut, while Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor was also passed fit following an attack after a night out last weekend. The game kicked off in a poisonous atmosphere after Celtic fans disrupted a minute's silence for former Rangers goalkeeper Gerry Neef, who died last week.

Unsurprisingly, the game got off to a frantic start. McGregor was called upon to make a good save from Keane with barely 30 seconds on the clock, after Marc-Antoine Fortune had raced past Sasa Papac down the right. Moments later, at the other end, Kris Boyd took a Steven Davis pass, rounded Artur Boruc but then ran the ball too wide and failed to find the target.

The tempo refused to subside as play swung mostly towards the Rangers goal. In the 17th minute, after Papac had fouled Diomansy Kamara 19 yards out with a wild swing, Keane chipped the free-kick over the bar.

The home side suffered a blow when Lee McCulloch limped off to be replaced by Edu. Moments later, the American drove the ball into the net from the edge of the box with his first touch, but the strike was ruled out for an infringement inside the area.

Rangers displayed more purpose at the start of the second half, and the balance tipped decisively in their favour when Brown was sent off. The home side took advantage of the extra man to press for the winner but Celtic still carried a threat on the break. The tension increased in the closing stages but the defining moment came in injury-time when Edu pounced.

Afterwards, Tony Mowbray all but conceded the title. "As I have been saying for a few weeks, we have to keep going and try and win every game," the Celtic boss said.

"But it's fair to say it's there for Rangers to lose. However, strange things have happened in football and so we have to win all our games, but we are all sensible enough to know that we need Rangers to slip up along the way, so we will wait and see.

"I thought we would see the game out but it wasn't to be. We have been there before this season. A corner kick in the last minute of injury-time, and the last opportunity and we lose a goal."

Celtic also confirmed that they would be appealing Brown's red card.

Rangers manager Walter Smith, refused to be drawn on suggestions that the race is now over.

"When you start making assumptions like that, you start to disregard the other teams that you play," he said. "It's a step forward for us."

Kenny Miller was bolder than his manager. "We've fought until the end and taken a huge step now to retaining the title," he said. "It's in our hands and has been for a long time. Today was an opportunity for them to beat us and pull the gap back to four points but we've increased the lead and we're delighted."

Match-winner Edu added: "We are just taking one game at a time."

Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor; Weir, Papac, Whittaker, Bougherra; McCulloch (Edu, 26), Davis, Thomson; Boyd, Miller, Lafferty (Novo, 70). Substitutes not used: Alexander (gk), Wilson, Beasley, Novo, Fleck, Little.

Celtic (4-3-3): Boruc; Hinkel, Braafheid, Rogne (O'Dea, 31), Thompson; N'Guemo, Brown, McGeady (Samaras, 61); Keane, Fortune, (Ki, 68), Kamara. Substitutes not used: Zaluska (gk), Wilson, Zhi, Samaras, Rasmussen.

Referee: D McDonald (Scotland).

Booked: Rangers: Bougherra, Miller; Celtic: N'Guemo, Fortune. Sent off: Celtic: Brown (66).

Man of the match: Edu.

Attendance: 50,320.

Irish Independent

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