DESPITE a hugely spirited effort from 10-man Rangers in the second half to level up matters against Celtic this afternoon, they eventually fell to a 2-1 defeat at Parkhead.
From the side which was held to a 1-1 draw by Kilmarnock in Govan 15 days ago in the club’s last match, Steven Gerrard named five changes, albeit, it was the same XI which defeated Celtic at Ibrox on December 29.
Missing out from the Killie clash were Nikola Katic, Borna Barisic, Lassana Coulibaly, Steven Davis and Glen Kamara, with their places taken by Joe Worrall, Andy Halliday, Ross McCrorie, Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield.
While they numbered only around 800 inside Parkhead, the support provided by the traveling Bears was, as always, quite outstanding both in terms of colour and noise.
And in what was a hostile environment, Gers made a pretty decent start, pressing the ball high up the park inside the opening minute to create a half-opening for Ryan Kent, with his cross from the far left edge of the box cleared.
But straight away, attack had to turn into defence, with a Kieran Tierney ball reaching unmarked Odsonne Edouard inside the area, only for Allan McGregor to deny him from close range.
That blistering start from both sides soon calmed, with Gers happy to let the home side have most of the ball, but they always looked to get forward when they won it back.
McGregor was again called upon to make a save, this time from Olivier Ntcham who had a weak effort from the edge of the area on 16 minutes, before slack pass into midfield from Worrall presented a chance for Edouard to run for goal, with Connor Goldson making a quite wonderful tackle to send the ball out for a corner.
Then, with 28 minutes on the clock, Celtic took the lead.
Again, Gers were slack with the ball in midfield, and Eduoard was able to collect and head for the Gers goal. Worrall and Goldson both sent off in hot pursuit, but they couldn’t match him for pace and he slammed the ball beyond McGregor for 1-0.
Gers should have levelled straight from the restart, with James Tavernier’s cross following good work from Daniel Candeias only just evading the incoming Alfredo Morelos.
Morelos was then involved with Scott Brown seconds later, with the Rangers man being shown a straight red by referee Bobby Madden.
McGregor made a further excellent stop from Tierney, but Gers managed to see it through to the break at just 1-0.
Gers would have to be brave on the ball in the second half if they were to take anything from the match, and they began well enough, forcing a corner which Celtic cleared while Tavernier had a claim for a penalty turned down when he went down under a Tierney challenge in the box.
Half-time sub Scott Sinclair should have made it two when played in one-on-one with McGregor, but again the Gers goalkeeper came out on top.
Daniel Candeias and Ryan Kent were then the break of the ball away from bearing down on Scott Bain’s goal when Kent picked the pocket of Dedryck Boyata only for the defender to get the slightest touch on Kent’s pass which looked set to release Candeias.
Then, with 63 minutes showing on the clock, sensationally, the 10 men grabbed an equaliser to spark incredible celebrations among the players and the small band of Gers fans.
James Tavernier’s ball into Ryan Kent on the edge of the area was a good one, but the winger still had so much to do.
He danced round Dedryck Boyata before entering the area, keeping his composure and firing beyond Bain to level matters.
It could have got even better for Gers 10 minutes later with Ryan Jack firing over the bar from inside the area, albeit on the end of a difficult cutback from Kent.
The sides were then levels in number with 15 minutes to go as Dedryck Boyata had to go off injured with the home side having used all three subs.
Gers were on top following that, but with four minutes left to play, Celtic re-took the lead. A mix-up between Tavernier and Goldson allowed Callum McGregor the chance to steal the ball and play in Edouard, He was crowded out but got the ball wide to Forrest to finish.
Gers came back again, with Kent’s cross touched into the path of Joe Worrall by Scott Bain, but somehow, Celtic got a touch on the ball to get it wide for a corner in what was to be Gers final chance of the game.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Worrall, Halliday; McCrorie, Jack (Kamara, 79), Arfield; Candeias (Defoe, 83), Morelos, Kent.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Flanagan, Katic, Coulibaly.
CELTIC: Bain, Brown, Hayes (Sinclair, 45), Boyata, Ntcham (Rogic, 64), Edouard, Lustig, Ajer, McGregor, Forrest, Tierney (Toljan, 73).
SUBS NOT USED: de Vries, Simunovic, Burke, Weah.
REFEREE: Mr Bobby Madden