The Old Firm remain 20 points – therefore a world – apart. Matters more serious than football had, endearingly, taken precedent before a ball was kicked. Rangers’ quest to complete their league season unbeaten remains on course.
Beyond this trio of themes, there was little to draw from a derby fixture sorely lacking in entertainment value. That Celtic, the better team, could not press home their superiority rather emphasises the frustrations of their dismal campaign. Rangers remain an immovable object in Scotland’s top flight.
Scott Brown is due credit having made a beeline for Glen Kamara and warmly embraced him during pre-match warm-up duties. Alleged racist abuse by Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela towards Kamara dominated discussion before Rangers’ trip to Celtic Park. Here, the Celtic captain displayed admirable solidarity with his opponent. Players and staff at both clubs refused to take a knee before kick-off, instead opting to stand together with a view to pressing home a message to Uefa. “It was a touch of class from both clubs,” said Steven Gerrard.
That Kamara lasted 90 minutes is to his huge credit, given how severe the impact of Thursday’s incident must have been. Gerrard suggested fatigue was a broader factor. “I thought Glen was faultless today,”the Rangers manager said. “I thought he was really good. He gave exactly what we wanted him to give.
“I think we looked a bit leggy at times. We looked like we lacked a little bit of energy. But we have had a real journey in the last two or three weeks. Celtic have had a lot of preparation time, a lot of free time to prepare for this. Ours has been different. All in all, we are pleased with the point. We came here to win but we will take the point and move on.”
Earlier, the injured Rangers captain, James Tavernier, explained why taking the knee would be ignored. “The message isn’t strong enough,” said the full-back. “We believe standing up will send a bigger message that we need action. All our black players have received racial abuse this season. That’s from social media platforms. This a clear message to them as well. We’ve had enough of it.”
As have Rangers’ city neighbours. “This is not about rivalries, derbies, opposition teams or anything else,” said Celtic’s caretaker manager, John Kennedy. “This is about unity, about coming together and trying to make a difference. It has gone on too long.”
Rangers, already the title winners, would probably have accepted a point before a ball was kicked in anger. There was relief from those in blue beyond the claiming of that; Alfredo Morelos finally scored against Celtic, at the 15th attempt. Morelos could not miss after Leon Balogun knocked a Borna Barisic corner into his path. This marked the Colombian’s 55th league goal in Scotland.
Celtic, under the guidance of Kennedy as they seek Neil Lennon’s permanent successor, at least avoided three defeats out of three against Rangers. However, the deposed champions should have claimed more. Mohamed Elyounoussi gave Celtic the lead with a diving header from Odsonne Édouard’s cross.
It would not be an Old Firm fixture without at least the slight smell of cordite. Brown branded a first-half incident, by which point Celtic were already ahead, whereby Édouard was booked for diving as a “stonewall” penalty. Kennedy agreed. “I think it was a penalty and it would have changed the game,” he said. “It was minimal contact but it was enough to bring Odsonne down and it was a reckless challenge. Why would he go down?” The time-honoured propensity for footballers to try to deceive referees is of course the answer.
Édouard passed up Celtic’s best opportunities to snatch victory. Rangers offered little in attack, save a Ryan Kent volley that stung the palms of Scott Bain and a Kemar Roofe attempt that was scrambled away in the closing stages.
“The level of the performance was good,” added Kennedy. “We created a lot of good chances, scored a great goal and other than the Rangers set play and one or two other moments, we really controlled them. We should have capitalised on more of the opportunities that we had, but the level of performance and the attitude of the players were first class.”