If a glance at the respective lineups suggested Rangers’ pre-match status as favourites for this Old Firm joust was merited, few could have reasonably predicted the level of comfort attached to their success.
There was surprise, too, about the man who triggered Celtic’s downfall. Connor Goldson, a centre-back, scored twice as Steven Gerrard’s side served the latest notice that Celtic have a serious battle on their hands in seeking a record-breaking 10th Scottish title in succession.
The mitigating circumstance for Celtic’s limp display here cannot be ignored. Covid-related matters meant Neil Lennon was without Odsonne Édouard and Ryan Christie. With Christopher Jullien unfit, Lennon had to deploy the 20-year-old Stephen Welsh in defence for only the second time.
Celtic were ultimately second best across the pitch but especially in midfield, where Steven Davis, Glen Kamara and Scott Arfield dictated things for the men in blue.
Goldson’s first of the day came with a glanced header from a James Tavernier free-kick. The ease with which the former Brighton centre-half could reach the ball will irk Lennon, as will the rather half-hearted attempts of Vasilis Barkas to claw Goldson’s attempt away from goal.
Celtic were lethargic during that opening period but did miss a glaring chance to level. Mohamed Elyounoussi’s attempted lob of Allan McGregor was totally miscued, when the on-loan Southampton player had time and space to afford Celtic an equaliser they barely deserved.
Kristoffer Ajer’s last-ditch tackle on Ryan Kent instigated a corner which led to Goldson stepping forward again. With the ball not properly cleared by the hosts, Arfield combined with Alfredo Morelos before firing in a low cross. Goldson’s first attempt was blocked by Shane Duffy; his second left Barkas helpless.
Ajer again denied Kent as Rangers pursued a third. There was never any sense they would need it. Celtic have a match in hand but, in this most significant of seasons, now trail their oldest foes by four points.