Filip Helander’s thumping second-half header saw Rangers beat Celtic 1-0 at Ibrox in the first Old Firm meeting of the season.
Helander’s 66th-minute goal proved the difference between the two rivals in what was a tight and cagey contest in the east end of Glasgow.
Both sides could have scored before half-time, only for Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard to somehow miss from six yards out, before Rangers winger Ryan Kent hit the post.
But Rangers – with manager Steven Gerrard not in attendance after a recent Covid-19 outbreak at the Scottish Premiership champions – held on to move third in the table and open up a three-point lead over Celtic, who stay sixth.
Rangers: McCrorie (8), Balogun (7), Goldson (7), Helander (9), Barisic (7), Kamara (7), Davis (7), Aribo (7), Roofe (7), Morelos (7), Kent (7)
Subs: Lundstram (6), Sakala (6), Arfield (6)
Celtic: Hart (7), Ralston (6), Starfelt (6), Welsh (6), Juranovic (6), Christie (6), McGregor (6), Turnbull (7), Abada (6), Edouard (6), Furuhashi (8)
Subs: Soro (6), Rogic (6), Montgomery (6)
Man of the match: Filip Helander
How Rangers grabbed early title advantage
With no Celtic supporters at Ibrox, Rangers tore into their opponents right from the kick-off in what was a frantic opening, albeit without testing Joe Hart in the visitors’ goal.
There was just one shot on target in the first period, although it was Ange Postecoglou’s team who would have gone in ahead at the break but for an incredible miss by Edouard 25 minutes in.
The always-dangerous Kyogo Furuhashi broke down the left, before crossing for the forward, who just had to hit the target from six yards, only to mis-hit his shot wide of the gaping goal in a horror miss that summed up the Frenchman’s lacklustre display.
The hosts, too, could have scored just past the half-hour mark, only for Kent’s low curler from the edge of the area to beat Hart, but not the post as the two fierce rivals went in level at the interval.
Rangers made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 in Armenia on Thursday, with starts for Ryan Kent, Kemar Roofe and Robby McCrorie, who made his first-ever Old Firm appearance with both Allan McGregor and Jon McLaughlin still not in the squad.
Ange Postecoglou made two changes to the team that lost 2-1 at AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, with recent new signing Josip Juranovic replacing the injured Greg Taylor at left back, while France striker Odsonne Edouard also got the nod in attack.
However, the breakthrough did finally come midway through the second period when from another dangerous Borna Barisic corner from the left, floated high to the far post, there was Helander to power home a close-range header that sent the whole of Ibrox into delirium.
Celtic could and should have levelled immediately, but Robby McCrorie – on his first-ever Old Firm appearance – did well to block Furuhashi’s shot, before using his legs to do the same late on as Rangers held on for a deserved and potentially crucial win.
Man of the Match – Filip Helander
The tall centre back did not put a foot wrong at the back all match as Rangers’ defence shut out their opponents to claim bragging rights in the first Old Firm of the season, although it was his intervention at the other end that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.
Helander is 6ft 4in, so perhaps it was no surprise then that it was him who rose highest of all to power home Borna Barisic’s inviting corner midway through the second period as Rangers extended their unbeaten run over Celtic to seven games, their best run since Dick Advocaat was in charge.
What the managers said…
Rangers assistant boss Gary McAllister:
Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou:
John Hartson: “There was not much between the two teams. Celtic played very well, hey got on the ball early on and the Edouard chance has to go in. It is such a huge moment in the game and the difference then is Rangers come out in the second half after a telling-off from Gary McAllister, they got better in the second half and the difference between the two teams is when the ball goes into the Rangers box, they head it out. When the ball goes into the Celtic box, they do not have the defenders at this moment in time…
“But there was hardly anything in the game and the difference was when Rangers went ahead, they managed the game out very, very well and little moments in big games settle it and it was a shame Edouard could not stick it away. Ultimately, there was nothing in the game, but Rangers saw it out when they went 1-0 up.”
Kris Boyd: “Rangers are back to where they were last season. They defended their box, any balls that were hrown in there from corners or free kicks, Rangers defended their box properly. It is a crucial part of the game set plays and Rangers have managed to find a winner from one as there is still more to come from Rangers in the final third going forward, with Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent not at the levels we have seen from them.”
When the season resumes after the upcoming international break, Rangers travel to St Johnstone on Saturday September 11, with the match live on Sky Sports Football at 12.30pm.
Meanwhile, Celtic take on Ross County at Celtic Park on the same day, with the game kicking off at 3pm.