Goals from Paulo Bernardo and Kyogo Furuhashi earned Celtic a 2-1 victory over Rangers in the derby at Celtic Park.
Leon Balogun was sent off in the second half of a hard-fought match, before James Tavernier curled in a free-kick to pull a goal back in the dying minutes. League leaders Celtic held on to take a significant win over their rivals just ahead of the winter break.
Rangers went into the game on a 16-game unbeaten run under new manager Philippe Clement, while Celtic had suffered mixed results in December so far.
With no tickets allocated for away fans, Brendan Rodgers side enjoyed loud backing in Celtic Park and the fans were rewarded when the hosts took the lead after 25 minutes.
Luis Palma’s corner was headed out from the near post by Abdallah Sima but only as far as Bernardo, who slammed a powerful half-volley from 15 yards into the net with Jack Butland helpless to prevent the goal.
Rangers had a golden opportunity to equalise after 35 minutes when Cyriel Dessers nicked the ball from Stephen Welsh and went in clear on goal but the Rangers striker delayed getting a shot away and Alistair Johnston raced back to block.
Welsh, who was in the team to replace the injured Cameron Carter-Vickers, damaged his shoulder in the challenge and had to be replaced by Maik Nawrocki.
Rangers had claim for a penalty late in the first half when the ball appeared to strike Alistair Johnston’s hand as he looked to fend off Sima. Nick Walsh allowed play to continue and VAR didn’t invite the referee to review the incident, though Sima is understood to have been offside before the contact.
While that decision was one of the half time talking points, Celtic gave their supporters something to shout about less than two minutes after the restart.
Matt O’Riley picked out Kyogo on the edge of the box and he shifted the ball on to his weaker left foot to move clear of Connor Goldson before whipping a powerful curling shot away from Butland and into the top corner of the net.
With twenty minutes to go, Rangers’ position worsened. Kyogo played in Daizen Maeda and with Leon Balogun losing out in a foot race with the winger, the Rangers defender pulled his opponent back and was shown a straight red card for a professional foul.
Two goals to the good and with a man advantage, Celtic were able to take control and limit Rangers’ ability to get back into the game and they looked like they would safely see out the remainder of the second half.
A foray forward from Rangers brought a free kick outside the box and Gers captain Tavernier stepped up to curl a trademark finish fast Joe Hart and into the top corner.
That sparked an energetic finish where Rangers got on the front foot despite being a man down but they couldn’t find an equaliser and after ten minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle signalled an important win for Celtic.
The result puts the defending champions eight points clear of Rangers at the top of the Premiership table, though the Ibrox side have two games in hand.
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