As with the masses turning on the Romanian despot in that fabled instance, a bond seemed to fracture utterly with Michael Beale, his players, and their support at full-time of their 1-0 loss to a Celtic for all the world believed to be there for the taking. Walking up to the ground with the home fans - who had Ibrox to themselves with Celtic refusing their 700 allocation over safety concerns - a familiar refrain was to be heard as the Rangers faithful digested the starting XI Brendan Rodgers was forced to select through a variety of fitness issues. A starting line-up that featured Celtic’s now sixth choice and fourth choice centre-backs in Liam Scales and Gustaf Lagerbielke, a pair who had never shared a pitch before the Scottish champions’ soulless scoreless draw at home to St Johnstone last weekend. The refrain asserted that Rangers would never have a better opportunity to stick it to their ancient adversaries. By full-time, the sentiment echoed like a lament.
Scales standing tall in proving up to his onerous task - refusing to be bumped around by a clod-hopping Cyriel Dessers whom he dominated in aerial duels as the little-rated Irishman exhibited real composure in reading danger - typified Celtic’s endeavours as the club registered their first clean sheet at Ibrox in four years. Callum McGregor setting the tempo, and directing the play as if dressed in a penguin suit with a baton in hand.
No-one would have ruled out the possibility that Kyogo Furuhashi would conjure up a glorious finish on the day. The Japanese striker bagging a sixth derby goal to settle the issue in the second minute of first-half added time after Matt O’Riley nodded him through on goal in the act of intercepting a Connor Goldson headed clearance. Furuhashi then pouncing with glorious piazz to take - incredibly early - a bouncing ball and lash it in first-time from a full 18 yards. His predatory instincts in that blink-of-an-eye akin to a cheetah launching into its unsuspecting prey.
However, no-one, absolutely no-one, would have ruled in the possibility that the Celtic goal could have remained intact throughout the 97 minutes played. Wherein their measured play allowed them to control the opening period, before keeper Joe Hart and those in front of him proved unyielding as Rangers forced themselves on to their visitors. Those of a Rangers disposition will say that this should not have been the case. And with good reason. In the 28th minute came the passage of play that will be endlessly debated and dissected in online forum and radio phone-ins, when Dessers appeared to punish Lagerbielke for dallying on the ball on the left flank before crossing for Kemar Roofe to thump high nto the net.
A VAR check ensued, with operative Alan Muir encouraging referee Don Robertson to go to his monitor in assessing that the Nigerian international had fouled his opponent in nicking the ball from him. Robertson agreed to disallow the goal but repeated viewing suggest there was very little in the way of an infringement in the interaction between the players. Dessers did have his arm on Lagerbielke’s back before the Celtic player lost his footing, but that outcome seemed more the result of the Swede kicking the striker’s leg than any other contact.
Beale’s understandable take was that “the boy [Lagerbielke] was lucky”, but he was also quick to point out the football left in the game at that point.
Rangers, across the entirety of the contest, were second best. A summation that the Englishman could not bring himself to recognise. Celtic, with Furuhashi twice inexplicably failing to covert when the goal was at his mercy in the first half before Jack Butland denied Liel Abada with a fingertip stop in the second, had the superior chances. Granted, Sam Lammers should have done better than allow the ball to become caught up in his feet with only Hart to beat in the second period and Danilo drew a fine double-stop from the Celtic keeper. The bottom line, though, is that the result was as felt right from the displays produced by the respective teams.
Beale’s post-match demeanour, even as he sought to hide it, betrayed that of a man who knows he is now walking a fine line. And has tripped over it in the minds of the dangerously populous lost-the-faith faction of the Rangers fanbase. In contrast, Rodgers sported the easy air of a man who knows a hard-to-please Celtic support will require to recognise he can make the weather in helming the club. Even as storm clouds appear to be gathering.
It was put to Beale that, following the 5-1 thumping by PSV Eindhoven that ended the club’s interest in the Champions League the other night, another loss to Celtic in a fixture of significance meant he was still searching for his first statement win in the charge of the club. A full nine months on from replacing Giovanni van Bronckhorst. A man who racked up a host of these in reaching the Europa League final, winning the Scottish Cup, and qualifying for the Champions League. Only to be ejected from his post as Celtic established a nine-point lead within three months of the league campaign being played out. A period during which he lost two league games…the same number Beale has in the space of only a month of this season. Moreover, with only Butland convincing among Rangers’ nine new signings as Celtic appear as if they can but improve as they bed in a host of their equal number of new arrivals, the portents hardly appear promising for the Ibrox manager. Certainly, it is early days in this campaign, and for any summer recruits. Beale, though, can’t afford too many more of the sort Rodgers and his men have just inflicted on him.