TALISMANIC Croatian Dado Prso produced a majestic performance of passion, power and technical skill to inspire Rangers to a wonderful win over their arch rivals.
Prso was immense as he destroyed Celtic with a superb display of striking play to give Alex McLeish the win he craved over old mate Gordon Strachan.
He scored the first goal, was involved in the second and won a penalty three minutes from time on a fantastic day.
There was some apprehension near the end when Celtic reduced the leeway to just one goal when they scored a penalty of their own, but in the end it was a job very well done.
Old Firm matches can invariably turn on one incident and it is fair to say that the dismissal of Alan Thompson – his third in this contest – changed the course of events in Rangers’ favour.
There is no doubt that Thompson’s challenge on Nacho Novo in 23 minutes was wild and there was no attempt to play the ball but a straight red card from Stuart Dougal seemed harsh.
The Geordie midfielder had been sent off at Ibrox twice before – the 5-1 Celtic defeat in November 2000 and last year’s 2-0 win for Rangers – and his rashness undoubtedly cost his team.
Within 10 minutes Rangers had the lead and it was a quite superb goal.
Skipper Barry Ferguson started the move with a cross-field pass to Marvin Andrews. The big defender motored forward and, spotting Dado Prso’s movement in the Celtic box, delivered a terrific pass.
Prso saw it all the way as he eased away from Paul Telfer and swept a right foot volley into the left corner of the net.
The irony was Celtic might have scored twice immediately before.
Mo Camara’s cross from the left in 28 minutes was only half-cleared and Stilian Petrov was quickly on the loose ball to fire a right foot shot which was deflected for a corner.
Shunsuke Nakamura swept the flagkick into the six-yard box where Bobo Balde had a clear header. Remarkably he headed the ball into the ground and it bounced over the bar to the utter relief of Ronald Waterreus.
Having got their noses in front, Rangers might have extended their lead before half-time.
Novo did really to latch onto Jose-Karl Pierre-Fanfan’s long ball in 38 minutes and did even better to hook the ball into the box. It seemed certain that Thomas Buffel would bury the chance but he missed the ball completely.
The little Belgian was to make amends within six minutes of the restart as Rangers roared into a two-goal lead.
Prso was key again, winning the ball in the air and finding Buffel. He played a give and go with Peter Lovenkrands, who had replaced Alex Rae at half-time, and wrestled away from Balde and Petrov to race into the box and place a right foot past Artur Boruc.
Ibrox, bathed in glorious sunshine, went bananas. Scoring the second goal so early in the second half made the fans believe that a real drubbing was on the cards.
Lovenkrands should have helped make that dream come true when he was played in by Novo with 61 minutes gone.
It was the pefect pass from the little Spaniard and Lovenkrands seemed certain to score. Inexplicably, he tried to shoot with his right foot instead of his favoured left and his effort trundled tamely wide.
Nakamura, who had been given a huge pre-match billing, was replaced by Shaun Maloney in 54 minutes and then John Hartson, so often a thorn in Rangers’ side, was given the hook in 66 minutes with Maciej Zurawski coming on.
It made little difference. Rangers were totally dominant in the second half.
Lovenkrands missed another chance in 69 minutes, albeit a more difficult one, when Prso played him in and he fired a left foot shot wide, under pressure from Balde.
Then a minute later a third goal looked on the cards again, but Camara made a brilliant blocking tackle on Lovenkrands just as he pulled the trigger.
Frustratingly for the fans, Rangers could not add to their lead and that frustration turned to mild panic when Celtic won a penalty five minutes from time.
There was no dispute as Ian Murray clearly brought down Maloney and the little striker promptly stuck the spotkick into the net.
Surely Celtic could not come back from the dead and salvage a point?
The answer came two minutes later when Rangers won a penalty of their own.
Prso was bundled to the floor by Petrov and Nacho Novo slammed the spotkick under Boruc to give Rangers the margin of victory they deserved.
Clearly it was all too much for Celtic captain Neil Lennon who was sent off after the final whistle for abusing referee Stuat Dougal as the Rangers players celebrated to the strains of Tony Christie’s hit “Is this the way to Amarillo”.
RANGERS: 25-Waterreus; 18-Pierre-Fanfan (12-Malcolm 72), 5-Andrews, 16-Rodriguez, 3-Ball; 8-Rae (26-Lovenkrands 45), 6-Ferguson, 24-Murray; 10-Novo, 9-Prso, 4-Buffel.
Subs not used: 1-Klos, 19-Thompson, 32-McLean, 38-Adam, 44-McCormack.
Bookings: Rodriguez (14), Murray (37), Malcolm (78)
CELTIC: 1-Boruc; 2-Telfer, 6-Balde, 44-McManus, 3-Camara (4-Virgo 87); 19-Petrov, 25-Nakamura (29-Maloney 54), 18-Lennon, 8-Thompson; 10-Hartson (7-Zurawski 66), 37-Beattie.
Subs not used: 22-Marshall, 14-Aliadiere, 33-Wallace, 35-Lawson.
Sent off: Thompson (23), Lennon (90)
Bookings: Hartson (5)
Ref: Stuart Dougal.