Two goals from Gary Hooper helped Celtic to a 3-0 victory over rivals Rangers at Parkhead, in the Old Firm derby. The Englishman latched onto a pass from Kris Commons striking the ball through Allan McGregor’s and into the goal after 17 minutes to send the confident Celtic fans into ecstasy. And 11 minutes later Hooper was at full stretch as he got on the end of a Emilio Izaguirre cross to give Celtic a 2-0 lead going into half time.
20 minutes before the end, Kris Commons scored Celtic’s third as he hit a swerving shot past McGregor to pile further misery on the shell-shocked and silent Rangers fans.
The result sees Neil Lennon’s side move eight points clear at the top of the SPL, and despite Rangers having two games in hand, Celtic now have the upper hand in the title race after their 14th league win in a row, and their 17th win in all competitions in a row.
As with every Old Firm match, the opening minutes was hectic as both sides aimed to close down the other, with the midfield packed and no side having the upper hand.
Within minutes Rangers had their first booking of the match. Scott Brown burst through the middle, only to be brought down by a shockingly bad tackle by Kyle Bartley making his Old Firm debut for Rangers.
Celtic began to get more into the game after some initial Rangers possession, and they looked more and more threatening.
And on the 17th minute the deadlock was broken. Striker Gary Hooper latched onto a pass from Kris Commons, leaving David Weir flat-footed with his first touch and fired the ball between Allan McGregor’s legs to give Celtic the lead.
Celtic continued to dominate play as they looked to double their lead, however Rangers finally had their first shot of the game at the Celtic goal, but striker Nikica Jelavic fired over the bar from outside the box.
Ten minutes later Celtic doubled their lead. Samaras slid the ball to Emilio Izaguirre running full pelt down the left-wing, picking out Hooper at the back post, who was at full stretch to steer the ball home. Despite vain claims from the Rangers defence the goal stood and replays showed that Izaguirre was onside.
January signing Kris Commons then had a chance to give Celtic a 3-0 lead but after Ledley set him up on the edge of the area, the former Derby player did not connect with the ball cleanly and he dragged his effort wide.
For the rest of the half, Celtic were content to stay at 2-0, as Rangers had more possession but failed to do anything with it. Except for some poor efforts from Steven Naismith and Nikica Jelavic from distance.
In the Second Half, Rangers came out looking for a way back into the match and they nearly did so. Steven Davis crossed in from the right and Jelavic headed unopposed but he could not direct it towards goal and it went wide of the far post.
Minutes later Celtic could have been three up. Greek internationalist Georgios Samaras turned veteran Rangers defender David Weir and sent a cross to the far post, Allan McGregor just managed to get his finger tips to it, but knocked it to Scott Brown whose header towards the open goal was cleared off the line by Sasa Papac.
Rangers’ best chance fell to on-loan forward El-Hadji Diouf. The Senegal International found space in the box after Kyle Lafferty passed to him, however his lob was stopped by the outstretched hand of Celtic keeper Fraser Forster and gathered comfortably.
After that missed opportunity, Rangers began to sit further back and failed as an attacking force allowing Celtic to continue their onslaught, and they were made to pay soon after with a superb strike from Kris Commons.
Commons collected the ball from Gary Hooper, cutting inside Madjid Bougherra, somewhat too easy, before he unleashed a swerving shot deceiving McGregor in the Rangers goal, who could only pick himself up off the ground in the knowledge that he had been beaten for the third time this afternoon and picked the ball out of the back of his net.
Celtic Park was jumping, quite literally, as over 50,000 Celtic fans did a mass huddle which stretched around three-quarters of the ground. An amazing sight for those watching on and even more amazing for those taking part.
Soon after South Korean midfielder Ki replaced Beram Kayal, who went off injured. And the Korean came close to adding a fourth for Celtic with a stinging shot which Allan McGregor could only push over the bar.
That was the final effort of the match and as the final whistle was sounded, Rangers trudged off the park dejected and shell-shocked. While Celtic who dominated the game, celebrated on the pitch and saluted the fans as they made their way to the tunnel and the dressing room for a well-earned rest.
The bragging rights are firmly in the Celtic camp tonight, with Rangers fans given a reality check and who will be subjected to some friendly banter at their work places tomorrow morning.
From the Dugout
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was a happy man after is side’s victory, “That was a wonderful performance today. I thought we controlled the majority of the game and our football today was fantastic, I am delighted for all of the players. Every one of them, from start to finish, was superb. Since the turn of the year they have kicked on.
Every one of them, whether it’s the starting 11 or the people we bring on, they are all making fantastic contributions to the team,” he added. “We believe in these players and they are starting to believe in themselves as well.”
Walter Smith admitted that Rangers’ performance was their worst in an Old Firm derby since his return to Ibrox over four years ago.
He said, “It was our worst performance against Celtic since I came back to the club and we’re hugely disappointed with the result. We didn’t do well in any aspect of the game and didn’t deserve anything better than what we got. We had a decent amount of possession but we weren’t good enough and it contributed to the first two goals we lost.
“Credit to Celtic for taking advantage of that, although we’ve got to look at it and say we gave the ball away too easily under no pressure and we were caught out. I hope it’s a hard result for the players to take. We didn’t have the edge in our game that was necessary today.”
“We haven’t been as bright since January began as we were in opening few months and we have to get that back. If we can get some wins, hopefully we will be close enough to Celtic to maybe have an advantage by the time we play them in our last league meeting at Ibrox after the split.”
Celtic Fans Reaction
– from Kerrydale Street
Boozebhoy was in dream mode over the result, “I’m now beginning to believe Martin O’Neil was just a John the Baptist type figure. And we are only now witnessing the true 2nd coming!!! Hail Hail indeed!!”
Delbhoy88 was pleased to eat his words from the beginning of the season over Lennon, “I slagged off lennon at the start of the season. I would like to say i was wrong and i have not seen such team spirit in ages. Well done neil you deserve all the praise and a decent contract.”
Stibhan was full of praise for Lennon also, “I think Lennon deserves all the credit; even last year we were a noticeably better side with him as manager than Mowbray. Now we’re getting steel and expansive football–that second goal was fantastic, and a classic counter attack which exposed exactly all of Ranger’s weaknesses.”
Silent Witness said that Celtic are now the ones in charge, “I’ll say this. Rangers tactics were suicidal. They played a high line and a very energetic pressing game. Exactly the same as Hearts did a few weeks back. You only play such a bold game plan if you sincerely believe in your own superiority. I thought at HT that maybe there’s something to them that can move them to play like that. By the end of the game I knew we had broken them. They have nothing left to throw at us other than a chance that we’ll have an off day. But we’re in charge now and they know it.”
Chrissybhoy was in a happy mood also, “Just in from the game. The thunder is well and truly back….thanks Neil. In all my years going to Celtic Park I have never experienced an atmosphere like that….that huddle in the second half was amazing.”
And Pauljames213 ends with, “Absolutely cruised it. Never looked in danger at any point. Won 3-0 without getting out of second gear. No real failures today but special mention to Mulgrew. Guy hasn’t put a foot wrong and the huge round of applause he got for his tackle on Jelavic at the end was well deserved.
“The midfield is the key in this game and they cannot cope with our pace and power now we have stopped playing with 2 out-and-out wide men. Lennon picked a good team again today. He’s showing a lot of promise against the greatest manager the world has ever known. Hooper took his goals very well and Samaras worked very hard. The atmosphere was immense. The ‘lets all do the huddle’ thing was amazing. I have been going for more than 25 years now and have never seen anything like that. Even during the O’Neill era.
“Rangers are a bad lot (but we already knew that). Brines very lenient in some ways. Diouf dived 3 times looking for free kicks in the first and Whittaker, Edu, Davis all sailed close to the wind with persistent fouls. I have never seen such a one-dimensional Rangers team in my life. All they have is the long ball into the channel behind the full back. They get the ball in there and look for a free kick or a corner. Shocking team. Hopefully today is a big psychological boost for us and a blow for them for the run in.”
Rangers Fans Reaction
– from Follow Follow
An upset and angry vanderhogg slammed the Rangers performance, “I can forgive a bad performance. I can forgive individual mistakes. And I can forgive being beaten. However what I cannot and will NEVER forgive (nor forget) is the team as a whole indulging in a performance that had no fight; had no heart; had no guts. We got what we deserved today. Absolutely f**k all. Celtic are first to everything, we have to match up to them; yet our players look defeated and look scared. To the players, if you can’t give us 110% then f**k off today.”
Mendes couldn’t seem to bare the shame of losing to Celtic, “It is a disgrace that we got beat so badly in the first place but to get beaten by them in sich a cowardly manner is sickening! every player should hand their wages over to charity because they don’t deserve anything. We should have shown something today but went down with a tiny whimper instead and let them laugh at us.”
Vidmar had some sympathy for striker Nikica Jelavic, “That Celtic side aren’t afraid of us in the slightest and actually play football on the front foot. Meanwhile we expect Jelavic to control a punt with his back to goal just outside the centre circle and make something of it. Smith is sleepwalking into a shambles.”
and Earl of Leven compared Celtic to Brazil of 1970, “Brown, Mulgrew, Wilson etc….they looked like Brazil 70 and it is entirely due to our approach which was wrong tactically, in personnel terms and in terms of effort.”
As well as the players getting the brunt of the flak from the fans, some Rangers fans demanded Walter Smith step down now.
Interbear looked back at the last time Smith announced that he would leave at the end of the season, “The last 3 performances against that mob, and the one against Lisbon, illustrate that our manager has lost the will to win, lost the ability to change things during a match, and ran out of ideas. I have huge respect for Walter Smith and his achievements, but we are witnessing a replay of the last time he announced his departure. A painful decline and too much loyalty to players past their best. It’s happening again bears. If McCoist is due to be appointed then bring it forward, effective tomorrow. The club needs a change and if it’s McCoist, give him a few months now. I see no point in delaying it any further. I’m more interested in Rangers progressing positively and moving on, than I am about an emotional farewell for Walter. The club is bigger and more important than that.”
But others were not of the same mind.
KA1960 said, “McCoist will be a poor man;s Walter Smith. We need a fresh change at the top.”
While Crouchy added, “What an utterly depressing thought. Shambolic performance today, and I can’t see McCoist taking a different approach to that of Smith.”
Match Photos[nggallery id=14]
CELTIC (4-4-2): Forster; Wilson, Majstorovic, Mulgrew, Izaguirre; Brown, Kayal (Ki 60), Ledley, Commons (Forrest 80); Samaras, Hooper (Stokes 85)
Subs Not Used: Zaluska, Juarez, McCourt, Rogne.
RANGERS (4-5-1): McGregor; Whittaker, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; Diouf (Healy 75) Davis, Bartley, Edu, Naismith (Lafferty 46), Jelavic
Subs Not Used: Alexander, Fleck, Foster, Weiss, Hutton.
Scottish Premier League
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Referee: Iain Brines
Man of the Match: Gary Hooper
Possession: Celtic [60%] Rangers [40%]
Shots on Target: Celtic  Rangers 
Shots off Target: Celtic  Rangers 
Corners: Celtic  Rangers 
Fouls: Celtic  Rangers 
Bookings: Celtic  Rangers