Drama, intensity, commitment, goalmouth action: Saturday afternoon’s Old Firm derby had it all. The only thing it didn’t have was goals.
Champions Celtic were hopeful of extending the gap between themselves and their cross-city rivals at Celtic Park, but an organised, hard-working and resolute Rangers frustrated the Bhoys and, in the end, had enough chances to nick three points.
The stalemate means Rangers remain in third, 11 points behind the Hoops, while second-placed Aberdeen can close within six points of Celtic if they win their game in hand against Hearts later today.
Here are the five things we learned from this thrilling Old Firm encounter.
Poor finishing at both ends
It was a back-and-forth encounter with, broadly speaking, Celtic getting the better of the first half and Rangers flexing their muscles in the second period.
The home side had the better of the statistics, enjoying a greater share of possession (56 per cent), shooting 11 times to Rangers’ eight, and edging the shots on target by four to three.
But both sides had their chances – the fact this game somehow ended goalless seems to have bemused most who witnessed it.
At the heart of the scoring opportunities were the respective top goal-getters of each team: Celtic winger Scott Sinclair has found the net 15 times this term – in addition to registering 12 assists – and Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos has bagged 12 for the Gers.
Both were wasteful at Celtic park, with Sinclair missing two gilt-edged chances in the first half and Morelos denied from point-blank rage in the second, as well as dragging wide from good positions on a couple of occasions.
Both goalkeepers shine
Wes Foderingham was one of the standout stars of the first half, on hand to thwart the home side on multiple occasions.
In the second half it was Craig Gordon’s turn to shine between the sticks.
The long-time Scotland international won his personal duel with Morelos, making a stunning instinctive save with his left leg to deny the Colombian from inside the six-yard box. It was just one of a string of superlative saves the big man made for Celtic.
Rangers’ intense pressing
The away side flew out of the blocks at the beginning of the game, pressing their hosts with impressive organisation and intensity.
Rangers visibly threw Celtic off their rhythm with the way they harried the Hoops high up the pitch, preventing Brendan Rodgers‘ men from playing out from the back in their customary fashion.
Inevitably, the visitors were not able to sustain this immense pressure for more than 20 to 25 minutes in the first half, with adrenaline dipping and Rangers’ pressing losing a touch of its intensity, and the away side dropping back into a low block.
But, miraculously, the Gers were able to call upon their energy reserves in the second 45, again closing down Celtic with alarming proficiency, wrestling the initiative from the champions.
Scott Brown dictated play when allowed
When Rangers‘ intensity dipped as the first half wore on, as Graeme Murty’s side fell back into their defensive shape, Scott Brown’s influence grew.
The experienced Celtic midfielder looked to get on the ball at every opportunity, dropping deep to receive from the Bhoys’ centre-halves and constructing attacking moves from deep.
The 32-year-old is a master of the centre circle, capable of dominating the middle of the pitch and finding space where there appears to be none.
Rangers did a fine job of upping their pressure after the break and ensuring Brown didn’t have it all his own way.
Bates a brick wall
An injury to veteran Portuguese centre-back Bruno Alves, which forced the former Porto man off the field after just 18 minutes, could have spelled disaster for Rangers, who would have been counting on the 35-year-old’s know-how up against the Scottish Premiership’s most potent attack.
However, 21-year-old David Bates, replacing Alves to make only his fourth league appearance of the season, was phenomenal.
The 6ft 4ins Scot was dominant in the air, strong in the tackle and generally tidy in his overall work. If Alves is set for an extended spell on the sidelines, Bates could end up saving Rangers a lot of money in the January transfer window.