STEVEN GERRARD was delighted and proud to see Nikola Katic bounce back from giving away a first-half penalty to score the winning goal at Celtic Park.
With 32 minutes on the clock and with the game goalless, the big Croatian was guilty of pulling at Christopher Jullien’s jersey as a corner kick was curling into the Gers’ 18-yard box.
Referee Kevin Clancy quickly pointed to the spot but Allan McGregor stunned the home support with a terrific save to deny Ryan Christie from 12 yards.
Katic recovered brilliantly from his mistake, producing a commanding display at the heart of the Light Blues’ backline, and his powerful header on 56 minutes which made it 2-1 is something Gerrard believes the 23-year-old will never forget.
The manager, speaking to RangersTV post-match, said: “Niko is the type of person that if he suffers a knock or gets knocked down or he makes a mistake like he did for the penalty, he won’t stay down.
He shows character to get back up and go again, and it’s a fantastic winner. It deserves to win a football match, especially here at this place. That moment will stay with him for the rest of his life, I’m sure of it.”
On McGregor’s penalty save before the opening goal from Ryan Kent, Gerrard continued: “It’s a top, top save at a big moment, because you obviously don’t want to be going in trailing at half time – it’s a different team talk.
“We were outstanding for 35 minutes and then we sort of lost our way a bit and it became a little bit of an up and down game. You don’t want to play Celtic at that because they have a lot of pace and a lot of movement and quality.
“So it was about resetting at half-time and getting over the penalty incident and getting over the equaliser. We were saying to the players ‘Come on, we’ve been together for five and a half or six months of the season and these 45 minutes have got to mean something. We’ve got to go away from this stadium with something.’
“For the majority of the first half we deserved the three points and for the majority of the second half we deserved the three points. So I think we take away only what we deserved today.”
In a pulsating first half which Rangers dominated, it was Odsonne Edouard who equalised for Celtic three minutes before half-time, with Callum McGregor’s shot appearing to brush off the striker’s arm before wrong-footing Allan McGregor and nestling in the net.
Gerrard felt that was the case. He added: “We were disappointed, we thought there might have been a hand ball in there, but I’m not sure you are getting them at this stadium.
“We’ve had two opportunities to make tackles and instead of just focusing on the ball and taking the ball, we’ve been focusing on the man and the ball and it’s come loose.
They’ve took a shot and got a bit of luck and they’ve got an equaliser, but I felt it was a bit against the run of play in the first half. I would have been disappointed if we weren’t at least drawing after the first half showing.”
The score was still level when Katic rose above the Celtic defence before the hour mark to beat Fraser Forster at his near post and the 2-1 victory means the Light Blues now go into 2020 with great positivity and belief.
Gerrard added: “That’s what it is about. These fans have been through enough and they’ve been through enough at this stadium, so tonight should be all about them.
“I’m going away smiling inside for them rather than myself because I know I’ve got to reset this and go again and get ready for the next six months. But tonight should be about them enjoying the bragging rights, they deserve it.”