Seven games that helped settle the Premiership title as Celtic are crowned champions

The Hoops sealed their third title in a row with a 5-0 win at Rugby Park.

The title race is over and the Premiership trophy resides in Glasgow’s east end once more after Celtic beat Kilmarnock 5-0 to make their lead at the top of the table unassailable.

Brendan Rodgers’ side made a successful defence of the prize they’ve won in the last two seasons but the road to their triumph was anything but straightforward. Rangers pushed the winners close and the top two both had ups and downs over a long campaign.

We’ve looked at the games that had a major say in who was crowned champions.

September 3: Rangers 0-1 Celtic

The early days of the season were turbulent for both sides.

Celtic had signed off for the summer with a triumph, their Scottish Cup final victory becoming the final piece of the Treble as ‘Angeball’ proved dominant for a second successive season. However Ange Postecoglou headed to Spurs pretty much before the celebrations were over and Brendan Rodgers returned with a tough act to follow and a promise to his critics: “For those who I need to convince, I will see you here in May”.

Rangers had finished seven points adrift in the league, and lost to Celtic in the cup semi-finals but Michael Beale had put together a strong run of form overall since succeeding Giovanni van Bronckhorst. After a summer rebuild that saw a string of new faces brought in, Beale was fairly bullish about the Ibrox side’s prospects.

Neither side hit the ground running. Celtic’s treble defence fell at the first hurdle as they were knocked out of the League Cup by Kilmarnock, and though they had kicked off the league campaign with two wins, they drew 0-0 at home to St Johnstone at the end of August.

Beale’s Rangers had a tumultuous start of their own, losing at Rugby Park on the opening day and then suffering a brutal 7-3 aggregate loss to PSV in Champions League qualifying.

That put pressure on both as they went into the first derby of the season. Rangers had home advantage, Celtic had the confidence that came from Rodgers’ formidable record in the fixture from his previous time as boss.

Ibrox erupted after just a minute’s play when Rabbi Matondo put the ball past Joe Hart but Cyriel Dessers was offside in the build-up and the goal was disallowed.

Kemar Roofe then scored what he thought was the opening goal, only for VAR to call a review and referee Don Robertson to disallow the strike for a Desser foul on Gustaf Lagerbielke.

Celtic looked like they were going to be fortunate heading in level at half time. Instead they took the lead just as the half was drawing to a close.

Kyogo Furuhashi got free of the Rangers defence, raced towards goal and hit an early dipping shot from outside the box that Jack Butland couldn’t stop.

The visitors, who had been forced to field a makeshift central defence of Lagerbielke and Liam Scales, fought to keep the advantage they had and limited Rangers chances in the second half, though Sam Lammers passed up a golden opportunity and Danilo had two late efforts that Hart was equal to.

It finished 1-0 and Celtic were four points ahead of their rivals with only four games played. Rangers sat fourth and Beale reflected on “a tough week” and “a desperately disappointing day”.

September 30: Motherwell 1-2 Celtic

After the derby fireworks, both Glasgow sides won their subsequent two matches to keep the gap at the top unchanged but Celtic travelled to Fir Park at the end of September for a lunchtime kick-off and the chance to edge further in front, even if only for a few hours.

The visitors found it tough going against a determined Motherwell side and couldn’t find a goal as the clock ticked down towards full time.

With three minutes of regulation time left, Celtic found a breakthrough when Celtic sub Luis Palma played in a wicked cross that didn’t find any takers but settled in the far corner of the net, with Motherwell keeper Liam Kelly’s view blocked by a teammate.

Celtic looked to be set for three points despite not being at their best but Palma’s 87th minute goal proved to be just the beginning of the drama.

Five minutes into injury time Blair Spittal rifled in an equaliser and all of a sudden it seemed like Celtic would be dropping vital points ahead of Rangers taking on Aberdeen.

Rodgers’ side showed their determination and their nerve to bounce back and find a winner in the final moments. Matt O’Riley was the goalscoring hero, putting the ball in the net in the seventh minute of injury time to earn his side three points.

Later that day, the hard-fought win took on more significance and the weekend could be looked on as a sliding doors moment.

September 30: Rangers 1-3 Aberdeen

With his signings and his side’s performances being roundly criticised, and the pressure on his shoulders growing week by week, it’s doubtful whether Michael Beale would have been aware of the drama unfolding at Fir Park as he prepared his side to face Aberdeen.

The Dons had had a sticky start of their own, winning only one of their first nine games before back-to-back victories over Ross County, but they turned out to be far from ideal opponents for a Rangers side that desperately needed a win and a statement performance.

Stefan Gartenmann gave the visitors the lead when he slid in to score from a corner towards the end of the first half.

Jamie McGrath doubled his side’s lead with a smart shot after Aberdeen had hit the woodwork. Abdallah Sima pulled a goal back for Rangers but after Scott Wright had been sent off for the hosts, Jack MacKenzie’s shot went in off the woodwork to ensure a 3-1 win for Barry Robson’s side.

Boos rang out around Ibrox, Beale admitted it was “a horrible result” and speculation grew about the manager’s position.

Questions about Beale’s future were answered a day later when he was sacked by Rangers with the club seven points behind Celtic after seven games played.

“Results this season have fallen short of what everyone connected to Rangers would expect,” read a club statement.

December 30: Celtic 2-1 Rangers

Former Monaco and Club Bruges boss Philippe Clement was appointed as Beale’s successor in mid-October and he quickly went about the business of trying to make his new side a more credible challenger for silverware.

The Belgian’s methods had seen him guide the team to a 16-match unbeaten run, including wins over Sparta Prague and Real Betis, and a trip across the city gave Rangers an opportunity to put pressure on an opponent who had been shaky in their own performances and results since the sides last met.

The stage was set for a match that would determine the mood of both sides going into the new year and it was Celtic who came out on top again.

The first half was played at a furious pace, with Celtic gaining the upper hand when Paolo Bernardo smashed in a half-volley after Rangers had failed to clear a corner.

The hosts doubled their lead early in the second half when Kyogo added to his collection of goals against Rangers with a fierce shot from just outside the box.

Rangers struggled to muster a response and their task was made more difficult when Leon Balogun was sent off with just over ten minutes to go. James Tavernier raised their hopes of a late rally when he curled in a sumptuous free-kick two minutes from time but Celtic took the three points and the bragging rights.

Rodgers and his players went into the new year eight points ahead at the top of the table but Rangers held two games in hand that meant there was still plenty of doubt as to where the title would be heading.

April 7: Rangers 3-3 Celtic

Clement and Rangers had regrouped after the New Year defeat at Celtic Park and won ten of their next 11 league games, only dropping points in a 2-1 home defeat to Motherwell.

Celtic’s draws against Kilmarnock and Aberdeen, along with a 2-0 loss at Hearts, meant the gap at the top was just one point when they travelled to Ibrox in early April. Rangers still had one game in hand and as the teams took to the field in Govan, it seemed the momentum was with the team in blue.

The visitors flew out the blocks and took the lead after just 21 seconds. James Tavernier’s attempted clearance ricocheted off Daizen Maeda and flashed bast Jack Butland into the net.

A VAR review saw Celtic given a penalty for a Connor Goldson hand ball and Matt O’Riley coolly dinked his spot kick into the net to make it 2-0 Celtic.

Tavernier scored from the spot to pull a goal back after Alistair Johnston was ruled to have fouled Fabio Silva and Abdallah Sima’s deflected strike made it 2-2 with four minutes left.

Celtic thought they had stunned Ibrox once again when Adam Idah scored with a neat finish almost straight from the restart but Rangers hauled themselves off the canvas again and Rabbi Matondo salvaged a point when he cut in from wide and hit a stunning shot past Hart to level in stoppage time.

The 3-3 draw maintained the point difference at the top but Clement hailed his side as “moral victors” for the way they had clawed their way back into the game. The onus on his side now was to make the momentum and advantage count.

April 14: Ross County 3-2 Rangers

Celtic’s 3-0 win over St Mirren a day earlier had opened their lead to four points but Rangers travelled to Dingwall knowing that a win over a Ross County side, followed by three points against Dundee, would put them in the Premiership driving seat.

County had never beaten Rangers, were on their third manager of the season and were in the relegation play-off spot looking for a result that could help fire belief and kickstart a climb to safety.

Despite an energetic start, interim manager Don Cowie’s side trailed after 15 minutes, thanks to an unfortunate James Baldwin own goal. The Staggies bounced back to record one of their most famous victories.

Soon after the start of the second half Simon Murray beat Jack Butland at the second attempt to level the score, and then George Harmon fired in a second when Butland could only parry another Murray shot.

Rangers pushed forward for an equaliser but a break allowed Josh Sims to tick away a close range finish and give County breathing space. They needed it as James Tavernier scored a late penalty but the hosts held on to gain three points that were huge for them but also dealt Rangers a significant blow in their hopes of getting back to the top of the league.

May 11: Celtic 2-1 Rangers

Philippe Clement’s side arrived at Celtic Park last weekend knowing they had to at least avoid defeat to keep their fading title-challenge alive.

Going into the game three points behind with only two games remaining, defeat would all but end any chance they had of stopping their rivals sealing three in a row.

But, as has been a common theme in Old Firm games this season, the Hoops again ran out winners thanks to first half goals from Matt O’Riley and a John Lundstram own-goal.

Just as Cyriel Dessers looked to have thrown the visitors a lifeline by making it 2-1, Lundstram was sent off for a late tackle on Alistair Johnston.

Up against ten-men for most of the game, Celtic had chances to get themselves out of sight but Daizen Maeda had two goals chopped off, O’Riley missed a penalty and Jack Butland pulled a couple of good saves to make a nervy last ten minutes for Brendan Rodgers and the 60,000 fans in attendance.

But they saw the game out and the three points meant they only needed a single point from their remaining two games to be confirmed as champions.

After the game Rodgers said he wanted his squad to sprint over the line and that’s exactly what they done by beating Kilmarnock in style on Wednesday night.

Goals from Adam Idah, Maeda, James Forrest and a double from O’Riley clinched the title in a 5-0 victory at Rugby Park.

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