Wisely, Steven Gerrard steered clear of the Sky Sports cameras this time. When Rangers secured their first Parkhead win in nine years last December the manager savoured the moment to the full.
By March, when the season was curtailed with Rangers a distant second, the over-exuberance of that day felt ill-advised and premature.
In so many ways Saturday’s 2-0 win was a more satisfactory experience all round. Rangers notched up their first back-to-back wins in Glasgow‘s east end in 25 years. They did so with a controlled, composed and unflustered display.
Steven Gerrard was a calm figure as Rangers beat Celtic 2-0 in the Old Firm this weekend
Two goals from unlikely hero Connor Goldson (above) separated the two sides at Parkhead
Playing at home against their bitter rivals in a season replete with historical significance a Celtic team gunning for a fourth straight domestic treble failed to muster a single shot on target in a league game for the first time in 11 years.
In two-goal Connor Goldson and the £50,000 signing from Dundee Glenn Kamara Rangers had the game’s best players. The quicker, sharper, hungrier unit they had better performers all over the pitch.
Had Gerrard let off a little steam at the final whistle, then, no one could have blamed him. Where Celtic appear to have learned nothing from recent Old Firm defeats, however, the Liverpool legend is casting off the L plates.
Gerrard’s side have shown their title credentials but need to improve against the lesser teams
In this fixture, as with so many big occasions, Rangers have the measure of their opponents. Until they master the art of consistently winning the lesser games against the Livingstons and St Johnstones over the course of a full season, however, the post-match celebrations will remain measured and restrained.
Gerrard spoke afterwards of staying humble and grounded. In his first two seasons in charge Rangers have gone off like a train before running out of steam after the winter break.
If that’s Celtic’s best hope now then the champions have an even bigger problem than 90 minutes of impotence suggested.
Ten-in-a-row was never the given people thought. A Celtic team featuring Lisbon Lions Billy McNeill and Bobby Lennox couldn’t do it. A Rangers side with Richard Gough and Brian Laudrup collapsed at the finish. The obsessive, exhausting demands of reaching nine seem to drag down the best of teams and age them.
Celtic failed to register a shot on target in a league game for the first time in 11 years
For the third meeting in a row Celtic were technically and tactically outgunned in the fixture which shapes and forms supporter opinion and, for Neil Lennon these are now dangerous times.
Before playing Rangers at Ibrox on January 2 the Parkhead side face tricky away games in Aberdeen, Lille, Prague, Motherwell, Hibs and Milan. They will also play Aberdeen in last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final and the impatience of supporters is wearing thin.
The down side of constant success is the entitlement of spoiled supporters. Celtic don’t have a god given right to win trophies in eternity, least of all when key players such as Odsonne Edouard, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, Christopher Jullien and Nir Bitton are missing.
Yet, given the transfer fees and wages thrown at building the current side, they are perfectly entitled to expect a shot on goal at home against a Rangers missing a few players of their own. At a time when cash is in desperately short supply the Parkhead side are failing to extract much bang for their buck.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon (above) rejigged his team shape for the Old Firm but the tactic failed
After losing to Rangers last December Lennon reshaped his team to a 3-5-2 formation. With a fit and firing Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths in the starting eleven it worked fine.
With neither player fit enough to start on Saturday Patryk Klimala partnering winger Mohammed Elyounoussi in an untried front two didn’t work at all.
After any Old Firm it’s normal to to over-praise the winners and over-egg the awfulness of the losers. People close to Neil Lennon say the time to judge him is May rather than October and that’s a fair request.
Yet, since losing to Ferencvaros, supporters have seemed less and less inclined to listen. A narrative is forming that, with Michael Beale on the premises, Rangers are now better coached than Celtic.
The untested partnership of Patryk Klimala (middle) and Mohammed Elyounoussi didn’t work
And a reluctance to tweak the 3-5-2 when the visitors were enjoying the run of Parkhead provided grist for the mill.
The tone was set when Rangers took the lead after eight minutes. Kristoffer Ajer conceded a needless free-kick for a foul on Ryan Kent in a dangerous position.
Before James Tavernier – another strong performer for Rangers – swung the set piece into a crowded area Connor Goldson was standing offside. Inexplicably Shane Duffy, an experienced international defender, took a step back at a critical point and played him on.
Hailed as a ‘no nonsense defender’ the Republic of Ireland defender had an Old Firm debut to forget. The same might be said of Celtic’s £5million keeper Vasilis Barkas after he failed to get a strong hand to Goldson’s downward header.
Shane Duffy (right) had an Old Firm debut to forget and was to blame for Goldson’s first goal
Goldson (right) showed great desire to nod Rangers in front early on after just eight minutes
There was no surprise that Rangers took the lead; they travelled across Glasgow with more confidence and expectation than they had in years. The surprise came from Celtic’s pitiful resistence.
A quick response might have changed the flow of the game. Yet, as Rangers pressed for a second, Mohammed Elyounoussi blew a glorious chance to level after 14 minutes.
The Rangers goalscorer Goldson lost track of a long ball and the Norwegian stole in behind one on one with Allan McGregor.
The kind of chance a Leigh Griffiths would have gobbled up the on loan Southampton player had no idea what to do, lobbing a wasteful effort harmlessly over the bar.
Mohammed Elyounoussi (left) spurned a good opportunity to level but missed his chance
Galling for Celtic is the knowledge that the two least effective Rangers players were in their front three.
Alfredo Morelos – as is his wont – concerned himself more with petulant off-the-ball swipes at Scott Brown than breaking an Old Firm duck which now stretches to 900 minutes. Brandon Barker was ineffectual and still they could have won by three or four.
Slick build-up play brought the second after 54 minutes, a neat interchange between the excellent Kamara and Scott Arfield resulting in a driven cross being thumped towards goal by Goldson.
Shane Duffy blocked the first effort but could do nothing about the simple finish for the second. Rangers, now, were cruising.
Goldson (right) had a simple finish in the second-half to double Rangers’ lead at Parkhead
But for crucial interventions from Ajer Ryan Kent could have rubbed it in with two more goals. All Celtic had to offer was empty jerseys.
A generous soul might concede that Leigh Griffiths managed a shot on target when the substitute darted onto Ajer’s through ball and rounded Allan McGregor with nine minutes to play. Dragging the ball wide there was never much hope of a shot cum cross from an acute angle finding the net.
For that to be the one and only involvement of a Rangers goalkeeper in a league game at Celtic Park is a slightly staggering affair. Four points clear Rangers are now justified favourites to win the title.
Gerrard’s Rangers are now favourites for the Scottish title and have a four-point lead at the top
Celtic will point to their game in hand and three more games against Gerrard’s side to put things right. It’s early and everyone gets that.
But only five times in the last 25 years has the team who lost the first Old Firm clash of the season recovered to win the title.
In more ways than one Celtic are now battling with history.