Lennon and Celtic answer critics as Hayes puts seal on Old Firm raid
Rangers 0 Celtic 2
Celtic did not so much put one in the post for Rangers with this victory, they dumped a mailbag full of questions on the doorstep at Ibrox, where Steven Gerrard has much to contemplate as he attempts to devise effective replies.
Having prevailed in both league Old Firm derbies at home last season, Gerrard had raised expectations amongst Rangers fans by reinforcing his squad over the summer while successfully negotiating eight games in the Europa League qualifiers.
Celtic, too, had booked a passage into the group stage of the Europa League and started the domestic campaign in swashbuckling style, but their improbable 4-3 home defeat by CFR Cluj in the Champions League qualifiers exposed Neil Lennon to vitriolic criticism from the Hoops support.
That some bookmakers made Rangers favourites to prevail in an Old Firm derby for the first time since 2011 was curious given that, although both teams came into the fixture with three league wins, Celtic had averaged five goals per game to Rangers' three.
Emphatic That difference rather neatly proved to be the gap between the sides in this fixture, but had it ended in a more emphatic advantage for Celtic - as it would have done but for interventions by Allan McGregor - Rangers could not have complained.
Lennon and his players were up for the challenge and refused to allow Rangers to impose themselves. There was little art in the spectacle, but there was reward and by half-time it belonged to Celtic.
The breakthrough came from an error by Connor Goldson in the 32nd minute, when he tried to thread a pass through the green-and-white midfield cordon and played it straight to Mikey Johnston.
Johnston's return ball was judged perfectly to allow Odsonne Edouard to stride through, draw McGregor from his line and shoot below the advancing goalkeeper. It was the only shot on target in the first half.
Matters did not improve after the break. Celtic always looked likely to strike on the counter and they did so three minutes into injury-time in a move begun and finished by Jonny Hayes, who had replaced the tiring Johnston shortly beforehand.
There was still time for a miserable afternoon for Rangers to deteriorate when Jones slammed into Moritz Bauer and was dismissed by the otherwise lenient Bobby Madden.
"If you believed all the hype, we shouldn't have turned up today," said Lennon. "We've kept our counsel, we've stayed calm and we've put in a brilliant performance." (© Daily Telegraph, London)