SPFL

Reality Check for Steven Gerrard and Rangers

Steven Gerrard was kidding no one when he attempted to deflect from Rangers’ timid performance by suggesting the referee had got a key decision wrong.

After Ryan Jack and Tom Rogic came together innocuously just outside the Celtic penalty area, the Australian midfielder stole the loose ball and drove forward to set up Olivier Ntcham’s winning goal.

Gerrard claimed in vain for a foul against Rogic but it was hardly a clearcut case as many observers have since agreed.

Celtic dominant

The final score may have been just 1-0 to Celtic but the Scottish champions were completely dominant as Rangers retreated from the East End of Glasgow with that losing feeling once again.

The home side had struck the woodwork three times before making the breakthrough and substitute Leigh Griffiths was denied by the post when he attempted to add a second in the closing stages.

Rangers best player was undoubtedly goalkeeper Allan McGregor who made several excellent saves after getting away with a clear red-card offence when he lashed out at Kristoffer Ajer with his boot.

The visitors had come into the game with high hopes as the Gerrard revolution appeared to have the Ibrox side on the right tracks.

Qualification for the Europa League group stage had been achieved as the Gers held on against Russian side Ufa in the second leg of their playoff despite being down to nine men.

In contrast, morale at Celtic was low following an exit from the Champions League and a poor transfer window that culminated in talented striker Moussa Dembele throwing a tantrum to force through a move to Lyon on deadline day. With the loss of Dembele, Stuart Armstrong and Patrick Roberts, Celtic’s squad is unquestionably weaker than it was four months ago.

High expectations

There had been just one league win for Rangers in the first three games but the resilience shown to take a point at Aberdeen despite spending most of the game with 10 men was encouraging on Matchday One.

Rangers were undefeated in 15 games before crossing the River Clyde on Sunday. so you could not blame fans for having much higher expectations than on their last visit to Celtic Park, which ended in a 5-0 humiliation.

But while the better defensive shape and discipline was apparent, the scoreline could have been very similar.

Rangers’ main attacking threat came from James Tavernier’s breaks down the right-hand side and he missed a late opportunity that could have given Gerrard’s side an undeserved point.

Striker Alfredo Morelos once again struck a petulant figure as he fouled his way through the game. He was finally booked for persistent offending but could then easily have picked up his third red card of the season for pushing Scott Brown in the chest.

Gerrard must make it a priority to calm his Colombian goal scorer, who currently seems like a red card waiting to happen in every game. He must also work on his big game mentality as Morelos once more failed to find the net against his team’s biggest rivals.

Referee ‘error’

Kyle Lafferty was a thorn in Celtic’s side for Hearts but in his second league game back at Rangers, like Morelos, he seemed more inclined to commit fouls than create. After a lively first half, he faded badly in the second 45 minutes.

Lafferty has always relished playing the pantomime villain against Celtic and he was up to his old tricks as, when Brown slid in late, he made a theatrical dive and feigned agony when he hadn’t been touched.

Gerrard’s focus on the referee’s ‘error’ was all the more bizarre when he admitted that McGregor had been lucky not to be punished for his earlier offence. Had McGregor walked, the Ibrox men would have been reduced to 10 men in the first half of a game for the fourth time this season.

So where do Rangers go from here? The nature of the defeat will have stung but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells ringing. It has been a testing start to to season with Europa League qualifiers and three out of the first four Premiership games away from home.

Five points from four games may not appear a great return but it is far from disastrous in the circumstances. A point at Pittodrie was a good result and the home victory over St Mirren was achieved with 10 men for the final hour.

They did throw away two points at Motherwell in added time but, overall, Rangers look like a tougher proposition than this time last year under the erratic tenure of Pedro Caixinha.

Time will tell if Gerrard can take his side closer to Celtic’s level but if Sunday’s mismatch is anything to go by, they will be battling for second place. No amount of media noise about a genuine title challenge can alter the reality that, on their day, Celtic remain significantly better than Gerrard’s side.

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