The Seventh and final Glasgow Derby of the season ended in a stalemate. Chances were few and far between, but Celtic had a glorious opportunity to secure all three points late on as they awarded a penalty. However Greek International Georgios Samaras was denied by a great save from Rangers keeper Allan McGregor.
Despite the game ending all square, the league title is Celtic’s to lose. Rangers may be a point ahead, but Celtic have a game in hand against Terry Butcher’s Inverness Caley and even if they take a draw from that game, the Parkhead side would go top on goal difference. If a win was secured then Celtic would lead by two points with four games left remaining of the season.
The match kicked off with the game being played, mainly in the middle of the park and it was only until after the ten minute mark that the game opened up.
Rangers had the best of the opening stages of the game as both Gregg Wylde and Steven Davis sending in dangerous crosses into the Celtic box, but Forster managed to punch the ball away on both occasions.
However Celtic had a claim for a penalty soon after when Joe Ledley was obstructed in the box by Steven Whittaker, but referee Craig Thomson waved away the protests of the Celtic players.
There was a bit of handbags between Samaras and Weir on 22 minutes when both resorted to a bit of shoving, which resulted in both being yellow carded.
Scott Brown had Celtic’s first chance on goal with a low drive from 20 yards out, but minutes later Steven Naismith had a great chance to break the deadlock from 12 yards, but he sliced his shot wide after picking up a Sasa Papac long ball.
But neither side could open the scoring in the first half and went in at the break all square.
Into the second half and David Weir had the first chance but could only head over from 14 yards out from a Davis corner. Kyle Lafferty then wasted a great chance to give Rangers the lead when he got in front of Mulgrew, but could only head a Gregg Wylde cross wide of the post.
Celtic then saw a 22 yard strike from Beram Kayal fly inches wide of McGregor’s post, before McGregor produced a superb finger tip save from a Majstorovic header.
McGregor was then called into action once again when Emilio Izaguirre found himself free in the Rangers box only to see his chip tipped over the bar from the Scotland keeper.
And seven minutes from time, Celtic were awarded a penalty after Stokes was judged to have been obstructed in the box. The decision was soft, with Ledley’s first half penalty claim having more substance to it. But Samaras stepped up and his poor penalty was saved by Allan McGregor and out for a corner.
With the game seconds from the end, Stokes went down in the box once again but he was rightly judged to have dived under pressure from substitute John Fleck, and booked for his troubles.
Makeshift defender Charlie Mulgrew then gave away a free kick just yards from the Celtic box in injury times, but El Hadji Diouf, looking to snatch the winning goal and a bit of ‘glory’ for himself curled the ball over the wall but wide of the goal. It proved to be the last chance of the game, as Craig Thomson blew for Full Time.
The stalemate plays more into the hands of Celtic, with a game in hand sitting just one point behind their rivals.
Moment of Controversy
However there was a moment of controversy as the players and officials made their way off the field. Neil Lennon was on the receiving end of some sick chants from the Rangers support, who were singing ‘What’s it like to live in fear?’ in reference to the recent Parcel Bomb attacks on the Celtic manager.
And in return Neil Lennon cupped both his ears as he made his way towards the tunnel to shake Ally McCoist’s hand.
Walter Smith conceded that the result leaves Celtic favourites for the SPL title, but all the pressure was on Celtic.
“Obviously Celtic are the favourites right now and are in a position we want to be in – we are on a good run, so from our own point of view we have to keep playing, keep our run going and the pressure that comes at the end of the season could help us,” he said. “Celtic know they have to go and win their games and it isn’t always easy at this stage of the season.”
“It was one of those games, I thought for an hour we were excellent,” he added. “Obviously looking at the way the game finished it opened up a little bit and Celtic had a couple of opportunities to go ahead, from our own point of view we were disappointed. We had the better start to the game but we never managed to turn that into goals.”
On Celtic’s penalty, Smith questioned the decision. “It is a very doubtful penalty to say the least, but he [McGregor] has been excellent for us and he had one other excellent save.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon admitted that his side have ‘a slight advantage’ in the title race.
Lennon said, “It’s a slight advantage. We have a game in hand and we can’t afford to lose it. It’s a tough game away to Inverness but the team can take a lot of confidence today. We were asked a lot of questions and the players answered them. In the second half I thought we were the far better team. Their goalkeeper got Man of the Match so that says a lot about our performance. We weathered the storm we knew Rangers would throw at us physically and but for McGregor we would have won the game.”
Lennon also commented on the Penalty decisions one not given in the First Half and the Stokes one in the second.
“The Joe Ledley one looked a stone wall penalty in the first half,” he continued. “By all accounts the one they did give was fairly soft but we could have had a couple of others.”
RANGERS: McGregor; Whittaker, Weir, Bougherra; Papac; Davis, Edu (Diouf 83), Wylde (Fleck 73), Naismith; Lafferty, Jelavic
Subs not used: Alexander, Foster, Healy, Kerkar, Hutton
CELTIC: Forster; Wilson, Majstorovic, Mulgrew, Izaguirre; Brown, Kayal, Ki, Ledley (Commons 54); Samaras, Hooper (Stokes 74)
Subs not used: Zaluska, Rogne, Forrest, Ljungberg, Maloney
Attendance: 50, 248
Scotzine Man of the match: Allan McGregor