Celtic moved 12 points clear at the top of the Premiership table after defeating Rangers 3-2 in a pulsating Old Firm derby.
Kyogo Furuhashi scored twice and Jota netted a third for Ange Postecoglou’s side, with Rangers captain James Tavernier netting a double as the rivals went head to head in Glasgow’s east end.
Celtic’s win gives the defending champions a near unassailable lead in the league with just seven games left to play.
A hip injury sustained by Connor Goldson in training meant the influential defender was missing from Michael Beale’s teamsheet, John Souttar coming in for his first league start since the opening day of the season.
There were no such surprises in Ang Postecoglou’s team. Reo Hatate had already been confirmed as an absentee after failing to recover from a hamstring injury in time. Aaron Mooy came into midfield replacing Tomoki Iwata.
Beale had said in midweek that his side couldn’t afford a slow start and there was action from the first whistle, with Celtic uncharacteristically misplacing passes and allowing Rangers to get forward.
The hosts had the ball in the next after six minutes when Kyogo collected a ball over the top from Alistair Johnston and put the ball through Allan McGregor’s legs but a quick offside flag ended the celebrations.
Just after the 20 minute mark, it was Rangers’ turn to see a goal disallowed and in more controversial circumstances. A corner fell to Alfredo Morelos at the back post and he finished first time. Referee Kevin Clancy ruled that the Colombian striker had pushed Alistair Johnston as the pair jostled in the box. A VAR review upheld the decision though the visitors felt the decision was more than harsh.
That incident was barely over when Celtic took the lead. Greg Taylor fed Matt O’Riley on the left and his cutback was collected by Kyogo, who spun and finished with a smartly struck shot. Celtic Park erupted as the forward celebrated his fourth goal against Rangers.
Malik Tillman tried a shot from distance that flashed wide as Rangers looked for an immediate equaliser, then Jota brought a save from McGregor with an ambitious long-range effort.
The hosts were looking to turn the screw and were on top as the fiercely-contested game approached half-time but a late challenge from O’Riley on Tillman just outside the box presented Rangers with a clear opportunity.
James Tavernier sized up the free-kick and then brought his side level with a perfectly executed strike that cleared the wall and struck the underside of the bar before bouncing down over the line with Joe Hart well-beaten.
After the break, the visitors pressed to get their noses in front and Morelos had two opportunies but couldn’t finish, before Todd Cantwell tried his luck with a fizzing shot that went wide.
Borna Barisic had to clear a Kyogo effort off the line before the flag went up for offside.
On 63 minutes, Celtic’s talismanic striker did find the net again, punishing a Rangers mistake. Ben Davies put a clearance up in the air and then fluffed his lines as he tried to head the ball away. A bounce off Jota saw it fall to Kyogo and he slammed in an accurate finish from a narrow angle. Advantage Celtic again.
The striker had an opportunity for a hat-trick just two minutes later but Davies reacted to block and Celtic looked more likely to add to their lead than concede again.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, they did just that. A poor back pass from Souttar allowed Jota to race in and slip past Allan McGregor before sliding the ball in from a tight angle for his side’s third goal.
Rangers needed a quick response and they got it just minutes later. Borna Barisic swung a cross in from the right and Tavernier was unmarked at the back post, powering a header past Joe Hart for his 100th Rangers goal.
The full-back almost had a 101st and a hat-trick just after the restart when he rose for a header and saw the ball go agonisingly wide of the post.
The visitors had another chance to draw level when a break saw them three on three but Morelos and Ryan Kent exchanged passes with each other and neither could test Hart with a shot.
Alexandro Bernabei, one of a raft of second half substitutes, had a golden chance to wrap things up when put through on goal by Oh. The left-back had the opportunity to shoot but instead played the ball across goal, expecting a player in support but finding no takers.
Five minutes of additional time brought more lung-bursting effort from both sides and a last-gasp free-kick opportunity for Rangers but no further scoring meant Celtic took three points and a huge step towards the title.
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