Rangers rout champions Celtic as Michael Beale enjoys first Old Firm win
Rangers trounced Celtic 3-0 at Ibrox as Michael Beale enjoyed his first win over the Hoops as Gers manager.
Midfielder Todd Cantwell fired the home side into the lead after five breathless minutes before returning defender John Souttar headed in his first Light Blues goal from a corner on 34 minutes.
Attacker Fashion Sakala made it 3-0 in the 70th minute to clinch a convincing victory over the below-par cinch Premiership champions.
It was Beale’s first success in five attempts against the Parkhead side since taking over from Giovanni van Bronckhorst last November and it ended Celtic’s 34-game unbeaten domestic run – although Ange Postecoglou’s side remain on course for a domestic treble, with the Scottish Cup final against Championship side Inverness at Hampden Park to come on June 3.
If nothing else, it was a much-needed marker for Beale and Rangers with a view to next season although they will realise the title and the ViaPlay Cup were already safely in the Celtic Park trophy room.
Pre-match speculation about team line-ups ended when it was announced that Souttar was taking over from the injured Ben Davies, Ryan Jack returning to midfield and Rabbi Matondo and Sakala leading the line, with Robby McCrorie again preferred to veteran Allan McGregor in goal.
Postecoglou replaced Greg Taylor with Alexandro Bernabei and brought in South Korean striker Oh Hyeon-gyu for Kyogo Furuhashi and winger Liel Abada for Daizen Maeda.
There were no away fans in the stadium due to “safety and security” issues, as was the case when Rangers visited the east end of Glasgow in April, and it was a blistering start from the home side which produced the opener.
As the Hoops defence gasped for air, midfielder John Lundstram’s shot from 25 yards was parried by Joe Hart and Cantwell reacted quickly to drive the ball through the legs of the Hoops keeper from eight yards.
Celtic’s first real attack moments later almost brought an equaliser.
Abada raced clear down the right and when he picked out Oh, the Parkhead attacker’s chip beat McCrorie but clipped the post and Rangers recovered.
Matondo broke clear as Celtic pressed but his long-range effort was comfortably saved by Hart.
The home support urged their team forward but the visitors were controlling the game, only to fall further behind when, from a James Tavernier corner, Souttar fended off Celtic defender Yuki Kobayashi to head past Hart for his first goal since joining the Ibrox club from Hearts in the summer.
As Celtic pushed to get back in the game, there was a penalty appeal when Light Blues defender Connor Goldson fell hand-first on to the ball but referee Steven McLean played on.
The Parkhead side might have reduced the deficit in the 50th minute when Jack was robbed by Matt O’Riley but after going past Souttar, the midfielder’s chip was brilliantly touched over the bar by McCrorie and the Govan side survived the corner.
At the other end, moments later following a Gers counter, Hart tipped a Cantwell drive round the post, and minutes later saved an angled drive from the former Norwich player – although McLean surprisingly awarded a goal kick.
Celtic contributed to their own downfall when Sakala took advantage of hesitation between Carl Starfelt and skipper Callum McGregor to race clear, round Hart and tap into an empty net for a victory which, while in reality doing little to halt Celtic’s progression under Postecoglou, allows Beale breathing space to make radical changes to his squad for next season.