GOALS from James Tavernier and Scott Arfield gave Rangers a stunning and thoroughly deserved victory over Old Firm rivals Celtic at Ibrox Stadium.
In the last home game of the 2018/19 Premiership season, the Light Blues turned on the style to secure all three points, with Neil Lennon’s men struggling to match the intensity that Steven Gerrard’s men produced throughout an impressive display.
Indeed, it took club captain Tavernier just one minute and fifty seconds to beat Celtic goalkeeper Scott Bain with a dipping and swerving free-kick. It might have been a cross but the Rangers fans didn’t care as they celebrated the early opening goal.
The second came with 63 minutes on the clock and it if anyone deserved to find the net it was Arfield, who put in an incredible shift for his team and was rightly names man of the match.
On a glorious, sunny Sunday afternoon in Glasgow’s south side the Ibrox faithful were in great voice pre-match, with Celtic’s 800 fans taking the official attendance to 49,844.
The noise level somehow increased at Kevin Clancy’s first whistle and just a minute in the referee awarded a free-kick when Michael Johnston brought down Ryan Kent who had cut inside from his left berth, just outside the visitor’s 18-yard box.
Tavernier jogged up to take it and his dangerous, in-swinging delivery towards the back post flew over the heads of several players before nestling in the bottom corner of Bain’s net to send Ibrox wild.
It was a great start to the match from Gerrard’s men and they retained their high tempo for the opening period of the contest, hunting to win back possession in packs and flying into 50-50 challenges.
On 16 minutes, the lively Defoe tested Bain with a stinging shot from 18 yards which was straight at the keeper while at the other end of the pitch Wes Foderingham – who was in the starting XI instead of the suspended Allan McGregor – had yet to make a save at this point.
In the middle of the park it started to get heated before the half-hour mark with Clancy having to have a word in the ear of the industrious Arfield following a late challenge on Scott Brown.
Rangers, however, were by far the more dangerous side in the last third of the pitch in the first half and on 35 minutes the club’s Young Player of the Year – Ryan Kent – again skipped in from the left wing but he failed to get enough purchase on his shot to trouble Bain, with the ball spinning wide of his right-hand post.
Just before the break a teasing corner was met by Connor Goldson who headed over the crossbar which meant the score stayed at 1-0 – but Gerrard would have been more than satisfied with his players’ performance in the opening forty-five even if they couldn’t add to their early goal.
The second half started as the first ended, with the Rangers players biting at the ankles of the men in green and white and showing an aggression in their play which their manager will be hoping to see week in week out in 2019/20.
The five midfielders – Davis, Jack, Kamara, Arfield and Kent – all worked tirelessly in the engine room with the Celtic players not getting a second to dwell on the ball or take an extra touch.
With an hour played the Light Blues were playing with confidence and swagger, but with just a one-goal advantage they had to stay focused against a team capable of punishing one moment of slackness.
Any nervousness around the ground turned to ecstasy on 62 minutes, however, as the impressive Arfield made it 2-0 with a terrific goal.
Kamara used his skill to dance away from Scott Brown and when he played a pass through to Defoe the in-form forward dummied brilliantly to allow the ball to run into the path of Arfield.
The Canadian internationalist then picked his spot low beyond Bain in front of an ecstatic Copland Road Stand.
Rangers were now in total control of the game and the fans in red, white and blue began to enjoy the rest of their afternoon as did their heroes on the pitch.
And on 78 minutes they came so close to scoring a third with Bain pulling off a fine save to deny Defoe. The ball then came back to the number nine who tried his luck with a delicate chip from a tight angle which clipped the crossbar.
That would have been the icing on the cake but overall this was a terrific performance from the Rangers players, who joined their manager and the club’s coaching staff for a post-match walk around the pitch to thank fans for their incredible support both at home and away throughout the campaign.
RANGERS (4-2-3-1): Foderingham; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan; Jack, Kamara; Davis (McCrorie 90), Arfield (Candeias 83), Kent; Defoe (Morelos 79)
SUBS NOT USED: Firth, Worrall, Halliday, Barisic
GOALS: Tavernier 2, Arfield 63
BOOKINGS: Flanagan, Arfield
CELTIC (4-2-3-1): Bain; Lustig (Toljan 45), Simunovic, Ajer, Hayes; McGregor, Brown; Johnston (Sinclair 64), Rogic (Ntcham 71), Burke; Edouard
SUBS NOT USED: De Vries, Bitton, Benkovic, Ralston
BOOKINGS: Hayes, Ajer
REF: Kevin Clancy