VICTORY in the penultimate Old Firm match of the season saw ten-man Rangers deny nine-man Celtic the chance to win the title at Ibrox.
Celtic supporters were in party mood ahead of kick off as they eyed the opportunity to clinch the league at their rivals’ home for the first time in 45 years.
But Sone Aluko’s tenth minute opener looked to have set the tone for a game that Rangers controlled for large spells, with goals from Andy Little and Lee Wallace wrapping up a 3-2 win.
Cha Du Ri and Victor Wanyama were sent off either side of half time, with American captain Carlos Bocanegra also seeing red late in the game in an incident that opened the door for a late Celtic rally.
Bocanegra was judged to have fouled Georgios Samaras and Scott Brown’s resulting penalty and Thomas Rogne’s late header were consolation for Celtic on a day that failed to deliver what they had hoped for and had seen the home side in total control for the majority of proceedings.
Ally McCoist had sprung a surprise ahead of kick-off with a change in formation to accommodate some of his returning personnel.
The switch to a back three put the onus on Wallace and Steven Whittaker to work the flanks with the latter returning from injury for his first appearance in 2012.
That meant room in a central three for young Rhys McCabe who joined experienced campaigners Mo Edu and Steven Davis in the heart of the pitch.
It meant responsibility was placed on Aluko to get close to Lee McCulloch as the lone striker and the winger was all over the Celtic defence from the first minute.
Peeling to the left in the third minute he found space and his shot was well blocked by Cha, with Rogne also closing in.
But the Norwegian could do little stop Aluko with ten minutes gone when he skipped past the Celtic stopper and sprinted through on goal.
Another speedy change of direction opened the whole box up and Aluko rolled the ball past Fraser Forster who was left punching the turf in frustration.
Celtic’s reaction was quick and positive as Samaras left McCabe and Dorin Goian trailing and did well to run at Carlos Bocanegra and test Allan McGregor with a shot that was well saved.
The ball broke to Anthony Stokes but his effort screwed up in to the air and McGregor helped it behind for a corner.
Rangers looked shaky from a series of set pieces but after a few nervy minutes they steadied themselves and again found room in wide areas.
Wallace should have done better when he was found wide on the left after another mazy Aluko run, but the defender screwed his shot high over the top.
It didn’t discourage the former Hearts man though and he was in the thick of things on the half hour.
Again he burst forward on the left and when he was tugged back on the edge of the box by Cha, referee Murray reached for his red card and reduced Celtic to ten men.
From that point Rangers dominated possession with Celtic growing increasingly frustrated.
Neil Lennon didn’t emerge with his side for the second half, with the suggestion that he was instructed to watch the remainder of the match from the stands by Murray.
He wouldn’t have been happy with what he saw from there in the early stages of the second half with Rangers again controlling possession.
And frustration once again boiled over just before the hour mark when Wanyama lunged two footed at Whittaker and joined Cha in being sent off.
It was a fifth red card in six visits to Ibrox for Rangers’ oldest rivals and left the home side in total control.
McCoist’s hand was then forced as he began to make changes with McCabe’s involvement ended by what seemed to be a calf problem.
He was replaced by Kyle Lafferty who quickly got involved when he spun away from Emilio Izaguirre and stung the palms of Forster.
Next to be stopped by injury was Aluko who was eventually replaced by Little after trying to continue.
And Little made an even more instant impact than countryman Lafferty when he tucked the ball home with his first touch after Wallace’s effort was stopped by Forster.
That effectively ended the match as a contest with 18 minutes to go but few could have predicted what was to come with Rangers keen to add to their total and Celtic fighting back late on.
Wallace won the ball in midfield and fed Davis and just as it looked like he would play in Lafferty the Ulsterman drifted offside and Davis instead picked out Wallace who slotted home a third with his final touch before being replaced by Salim Kerkar.
It looked like Rangers would coast through the remaining minutes until Samaras found space in the box and drew a foul from Bocanegra to earn that late penalty.
When a late header from Rogne reduced the deficit further it took a little of the shine off a performance that should have seen the home side secure a far more comfortable scoreline to reflect their overall dominance of the game.
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