Super-sub Edouard the Bhoy for 10-man Celtic
Rangers 2 Celtic 3
The third Old Firm derby of the season proved to be a confirmation ceremony.
We knew that Rangers had improved, but that Celtic had more quality plus strength in depth, and the champions duly remained top dogs after a convulsive contest at Ibrox, where they twice came from behind to edge a win despite being reduced to 10 men when Jozo Simunovic was sent off after catching Alfredo Morelos with a flying elbow.
The occasion was reminiscent - for those whose recall stretches back to 1979 - of the derby which saw Celtic clinch the title on their own turf with a 4-2 victory over Rangers despite having Johnny Doyle sent off.
The current Rangers side will rue this setback deeply, aware that they had a totemic outcome within their grasp, but lacked the guile and will to secure it.
A bold stroke by Brendan Rodgers, with the game tied at 2-2, was rewarded with the dividend of a win that puts Celtic nine points clear of Rangers, with a game in hand and a significantly superior goal difference.
Rodgers insisted afterwards that the title race was not over "by a long way". though tellingly added: "This is obviously a big step.
"When you come to one of your rivals and perform like we did and are up against it with 10 men for 30 minutes, you are entitled to celebrate.
"A great victory for us and we deserved it. I thought we played well with 11 men. I thought we were the better football team.
"We have a plan when we go to 10 men. You could see what the players were doing and they dealt with that final 30 minutes really well. I am very proud."
Rodgers staunched the gap left by Simunovic's dismissal, who trudged off in the 57th minute, by sending on another central defender in Jack Hendry, with Tom Rogic making way.
Midway through the second half, the Parkhead manager withdrew another attacking midfielder, James Forrest, and deployed Odsonne Edouard to partner Moussa Dembele.
In a classic example of the vagaries of football fortune, Celtic's substitution might have been made to look like a failed gambler's throw within seconds of Edouard's appearance when Morelos found himself one-on-one with Scott Bain.
A truly predatory striker would have buried the chance and put Rangers back in front. Instead, the lack of menace that characterised Morelos's display was highlighted when Bain made a crucial block.
Moments later, at the other end of the field, Sean Goss allowed Edouard to get across him inside the box to despatch a curled effort beyond Wes Foderingham for what proved to be the winner.
Bain was entitled to celebrate as extravagantly as Edouard. The goalkeeper, a January signing, is Celtic's third choice but, because of Craig Gordon's long-term injury and a training knock suffered by Dorus de Vries, Bain was informed on the morning of the match that his Celtic debut would be in an Old Firm derby at Ibrox.
His most recent prior start was on October 28, for Dundee in a 3-1 defeat to Hamilton. No pressure, then.
The afternoon looked as though it might become painful for Bain when his first touch was to pick the ball out of his net after only two minutes.
Dedryck Boyata allowed Josh Windass to ambush him on the halfway line for a sprint which finished with a fierce rising drive for the opening goal.
Rangers led Celtic for the first time in five encounters and the home support responded with a paroxysm of relief and celebration.
Their exultation was brief, cut short by a forceful shot by Rogic from just beyond the edge of the box for the equaliser nine minutes later.
The incident was doubly damaging for Rangers because the Australian's momentum carried him into contact with David Bates and the Ibrox centre-back had to be taken off and replaced by Fabio Cardoso.
Rangers, though, were ahead again in the 35th minute when Boyata allowed a cross to bounce beyond him inside the box, a mistake duplicated by Kieran Tierney. The ball sat up perfectly for Daniel Candeias to find the mark, and the stadium shook again to the exultations of the home support.
An interval lead would have given Rangers a bridgehead for the subsequent action, but in injury time they contributed to the catalogue of defensive errors when a hoofed clearance from Scott Brown dropped between the central pair of Cardoso and Bruno Alves for Dembele to lob over Foderingham and make it 2-2 at the break.
The battle was won as much in the technical areas as on the pitch.
Graeme Murty, albeit with a less potent substitutes' roster than Rodgers, persisted with Morelos long after the Colombian looked drained of self-belief, while the experienced Kenny Miller remained on the bench.
Instead, Jason Cummings arrived to partner Morelos, who completed a miserable afternoon in the closing moments by missing the proverbial 'sitter', striking a post from close range while Bain lay helpless on his line.
Murty conceded that he had endured the biggest disappointment of his career. "It was a big opportunity that we failed to grasp," said the Rangers manger. "I am not sure those opportunities come along too often in your career." © Daily Telegraph, London.