Alfredo Morelos ended his own personal goal drought against Celtic to ensure champions Rangers maintained their unbeaten record in the Scottish Premiership with a 1-1 draw in a frantic Old Firm contest.
On a glorious spring afternoon in Glasgow’s East End, Celtic struck first through Mohamed Elyounoussi’s superb diving header, but Morelos equalised 15 minutes later with a classic poacher’s strike to grab his first goal in an Old Firm game.
Celtic had most of the better chances and greater possession for large swathes of the match, while Rangers always looked dangerous from set-pieces, but neither side could find a winner, and in the end a share of the spoils was a fair result.
Before the game there was a heartening show of solidarity for Glen Kamara, who was starting three days after being allegedly racially abused by Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela.
During the warm-up, Celtic captain Scott Brown walked over to shake hands with and offer his support to Kamara, and both teams chose to stand before kick-off, rather than take a knee, to unite in the fight against racism.
How a slow-burning Old Firm warmed up
The build-up had been overshadowed by concerns around supporters from both sides gathering in the vicinity of the stadium, after large crowds of Rangers fans gathered a fortnight previously to celebrate their team’s title triumph.
The Scottish Government had only given the fixture the go-ahead on Friday afternoon after lengthy talks with both clubs and police, and a high perimeter had been installed around the stadium complex to warn off any who might be tempted to turn up.
Rangers had arrived at Celtic Park as champions for the first time in more than a decade, but there was no guard of honour from the dethroned for the victors. Indeed, there was little action of note in the opening 10 minutes, until Ryan Kent burst into the box with Morelos lurking, but Stephen Welsh’s block prevented any shot on goal.
Celtic responded with some purposeful possession in midfield, and, after David Turnbull’s cross had been only partially cleared, Callum McGregor volleyed just over the crossbar after a nice exchange with Welsh.
Celtic were attempting to press high and pin back Rangers’ full-backs, and they began to dominate the play, albeit without creating a clear-cut chance. The visitors’ forays forward were rare, although Morelos got a weak header on target from a Borna Barisic cross that was easily handled by Scott Bain.
The pressure from Celtic continued to build and they took a deserved lead on 23 minutes, when Odsonne Edouard escaped Leon Balogun and delivered a perfect cross for Elyounoussi. The Norwegian still had work to do, but threw himself at the ball to divert the header past Allan McGregor for his 16th goal of the season.
Rangers, perhaps drained physically and mentally from the events of Thursday, seemed to lack energy and ideas. On the other hand, Celtic were fresh after a fortnight’s break and eager to prove a point, as John Kennedy had demanded during the week. Four minutes after the goal Edouard claimed for a penalty after going down under Barisic’s challenge, but instead was booked by referee Willie Collum for simulation. Replays appeared inconclusive, but the signs for Celtic were promising.
What happened next was then totally out of character with proceedings, but utterly inevitable given Celtic’s defensive failings at set-pieces this season. After conceding a needless corner, the defence was static as Balogun met Barisic’s cross, and Morelos stole in to bundle the ball home at the back post for his first goal against Celtic in 15 games.
Celtic frustrated in search of a winner
The setback did not dishearten Edouard and Elyounoussi, who combined again as the Frenchman’s shot was only just kept out by McGregor. At the other end, Kent’s instinctive volley was heading for the top corner but well saved by Bain.
The goals had sparked the tempo of the game, which continued at pace in the second half. McGregor had to be alert at the near post to keep out Edouard, and then Morelos had another sight of goal, only for his control to let him down.
Most of Celtic’s success had come down the Rangers right, with Balogun facing severe pressure, and Nathan Patterson came on with less than an hour gone; within seconds Diego Laxalt had skinned the teenager to give him a rude awakening on his Old Firm debut.
For all of Celtic’s increasing dominance, the game was still level, and resembling a similar script to the game in January which Rangers eventually won after their opponents had spurned too many chances. Turnbull’s shot was stopped by McGregor’s feet at the near post; from the corner Edouard passed up another opportunity as he headed over; he then went down in the penalty area again under pressure from Filip Helander, but once more Collum ignored the claims.
Scott Arfield, Kemar Roofe and Scott Wright were all introduced as Steven Gerrard freshened up his weary side, while James Forrest replaced Turnbull for his second appearance since returning from long-term injury – but the intensity of the game was unrelenting.
Jonjoe Kenny volleyed straight at McGregor, and Roofe’s header caused consternation in the Celtic six-yard box before it went behind. Kenny’s wonderful cross was inches beyond Edouard, and Connor Goldson headed over when unmarked.
Neither team gave up in search of a winner, but none came; Celtic may see the point as a small step forward, but Rangers are one step closer to an unbeaten league season.
More to follow…