Celtic have beaten Rangers 4-0 in the first Old Firm derby of the season, taking a five-point lead in the Premiership after a comprehensive victory.
Liel Abada scored twice for the hosts at Celtic Park, with Jota and David Turnbull also finding the net as Ange Postecoglou’s side took three points and bragging rights in a dramatic match in Glasgow’s east end.
Both sides had been in strong form going into the game and were looking to lay down a marker in the title race and it was Celtic who made a statement and kept their momentum going before facing Real Madrid on Tuesday. For Rangers, the defeat was a huge blow early in the league campaign and just days before a trip to Amsterdam to face Ajax.
Celtic’s start was far from ideal, forced to make a change when talismanic forward Kyogo Furuhashi was forced off with a shoulder injury after just five minutes, Giorgos Giakoumakis taking his place in attack.
It didn’t derail the hosts, who took the lead in the eighth minute. A throw-in on the left was taken quickly by Celtic, a cross into the middle from Matt O’Riley caught Rangers flat-footed and Abada nicked in to turn a low shot into the net.
Rangers had been caught sleeping and Celtic were flying. Abada had claims for a penalty after going down under close attention from Ryan Kent but referee Nick Walsh was unmoved. Giakoumakis had a chance with a header he flicked on when solid contact could have put it past McLaughlin.
Celtic were flooding forward at every opportunity and Rangers were finding it hard to get forward, though Borna Barisic did deliver a couple of teasing crosses that could have led to an equaliser. The hosts soon got their second goal though, extending their lead just after the half hour mark.
A quick restart was Rangers’ undoing once again. A free-kick was swiftly played to O’Riley and he slid through a pass that Jota raced onto. Though at an angle to the goal as McLaughlin rushed out, the winger found a perfectly judged dink of the ball that lifted it over the goalkeeper and into the empty net.
Rangers were rocked but they were still managing to create some faint hopes of getting back into the game, and from the same source. Twice more Barisic deliveries for Colak gave a chance but there was no end product.
Celtic were relentless in punishing any slackness and that led to a third goal six minutes before half time. Another throw-in on the left allowed Greg Taylor to cross and O’Riley helped it on to the back post where Abada drilled his finish through McLaughlin’s legs.
Half time gave Rangers a chance to regroup and rethink their plans and it brought a change, Scott Wright replacing Glen Kamara.
The visitors upped their game and posed more of a threat in the early stages, with Carl Starfelt needed to nod a Malik Tillman cross away, then Cameron Carter-Vickers required to block a John Lundstram shot but Celtic soon settled back into their rhythm.
Mortiz Jenz replaced Starfelt after the defender hurt himself tackling Tillman, then Rangers made a double change, bringing Alfredo Morelos and Scott Arfield on for Tillman and Colak.
Clear chances weren’t as plentiful as in the first half but Morelos, back in action after being dropped for fitness and attitude problems, did drag a shot wide of Joe Hart’s goal in a reminder that he continues to be a goal threat.
Celtic boss Postecoglou then freshened up his side some more, withdrawing Abada, O’Riley and Hatate to introduce Daizen Maeda, David Turnbull and Aaron Mooy. With less than fifteen minutes to go Rangers brought on Ryan Jack and Fashion Sakala for Lundstram and Kent but the game seemed to have gone well out of the visitors’ reach by that point.
Moments later, things went from bad to worse for Rangers. McLaughlin had already known he would face questions over the three goals he had already conceded but he had a howler to hand Celtic their fourth.
The goalkeeper inexplicably played the ball to Turnbull in his own box and the Celtic midfielder needed no further invitation to bury his shot.
The result wasn’t in doubt but the pace didn’t relent. Celtic pushed for a fifth, Rangers looked for some consolation and Joe Hart was called on to tip away a goal-bound header from Goldson but there was no further goalscoring.
Celtic turn their attention to the glamour game against Real Madrid but Rangers will have to find time for some soul-searching before their European test.
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