John Kennedy has insisted that Callum McGregor should not have been sent off in Celtic’s 4-1 defeat to Rangers, and says the decision was the turning point in the game.
Kemar Roofe had put Rangers ahead in the 26th minute but, as the hosts celebrated, referee Nick Walsh showed Callum McGregor a yellow card for a foul in the build-up, and since the midfielder had already been booked, he was red carded and left his side with ten men.
Celtic equalised through Odsonne Edouard but further Rangers goals from Roofe, Alfredo Morelos and Jermain Defoe inflicted a painful defeat on the visitors.
Kennedy was adamant that Walsh had made an error with the first booking for McGregor, when the midfielder was judged to have fouled Ryan Kent. The Celtic interim boss said that if the referee had handled that moment correctly, then the second foul wouldn’t have cost his side so dearly.
“I think it’s a bad decision,” he said. “Not the second one, where gets the red card because he makes the tackle on the ground but the first one.
“I asked the referee for clarity at half-time, ‘Why did you book him for the first one?’ and his words to me were that it was a reckless challenge.
“It wasn’t reckless. I’ve seen it. It wasn’t reckless.
“He’s not gone to ground, there’s no malice. There’s no intent in the tackle in terms of power behind it.
“I think it’s a big game for a young official. He doesn’t have a lot of experience and he makes a very harsh call.”
Reflecting on the game, which saw Celtic go through the season without a win over their biggest rivals, Kennedy didn’t fault his players for effort.
“I’m disappointed with the result,” he said.
“The red card is the decisive moment, with Rangers scoring at the same time. That swings the game in Rangers’ favour and we tried to get ourselves back into it but in key moments defending our box we weren’t strong enough.
“Chances were always going to be hard to come by with ten men and we just couldn’t get the ball in the net.”
Celtic captain Scott Brown was playing in his last Old Firm fixture before leaving to join Aberdeen this summer and he endured a miserable afternoon, compounded by being substituted after an hour.
Brown admitted his disappointment at the outcome and shared Kennedy’s view on the sending off.
“It was a hard game,” he said. “Callum’s first card isn’t a yellow.
“I think it was a hard game for the referee. He struggled, to be perfectly honest.
“It was always going to be hard with ten men. We kept fighting and we created chances and were unlucky not to score at the start of the second half, then they go and score.
“It was a hard game, it’s been a hard season but Celtic will be back next season.
“We’re sorry for letting the fans down , and over the whole season because this was meant to be our showcase season and it wasn’t to be.”