Old Firm matches are renowned not always for the quality of the football but for the madness of the spectacle, the unique appeal of two Glasgow giants locking horns like rutting stags, with all the subtlety and grace that involves – which is not a lot.
This was different. Sure, there was all the intensity and passion and will to win. On the crazy front, every box was ticked.
Even Brendan Rodgers was caught in the vortex, ending the game limping about like an old man, the product of a calf muscle damaged in the celebration of the winner.
This was a game of football, not just an unleashing of two sets of mad dogs in a well-stocked meat house. Drama and quality. Goals and chances. End to end to end.
Rangers had control, then Celtic had it, and to all the world they didn’t look as if they were going to let go of it. That was the fascination of the game.
Even though Celtic reached double figures in goalscoring opportunities in that powerhouse second half, Rangers were still there at the end, scrapping away, sending a shiver up the collective spine of the visitors as they threatened to land the sucker punch at the death.
The upshot was another Celtic victory, riotously celebrated by their players and their fans. It was as if they had won a trophy out there, such was their reaction.
Just another three points? No. Their response told you everything about what this meant. This is not a normal fixture and this was not a normal win.
Wind the clock back and it was a different Celtic. A different Rangers too.
Barrie McKay was excellent, constantly troubling Mikael Lustig. He wasn’t the only one.
There was a moment midway through the opening half of this howitzer derby that made you wonder, just for a little while, if this was the day that Celtic had finally met more than their match in domestic football.
Rangers had the lead by then, given to them by a ruthless exploitation of Celtic’s first-half vulnerability at left-back. Josh Windass, James Tavernier, Kenny Miller – goal. At 37 years young, Miller had landed the first blow.
That wasn’t the moment, though. That came soon enough.
Brown had been booked for a foul in anger on Tavernier. The Celtic captain, and the rest of his team, were being coursed around Ibrox: hustled and harried, knocked off their stride.
Just after the booking, Brown took a rushed pass from Craig Gordon and found half of Govan in his face. He forced his pass under pressure, sending it into touch. The stadium lapped it up.
Brown looked lived. Only once this season, on home fires, have we seen Celtic struggle in this way. That was against Motherwell. They found an answer that day. They found it here too – and how.
One of the key moments – one of truckloads in this match – centred on Rangers’ cack-handed offside trap that, in a wounding chapter, couldn’t have caught a fly, not to mind Scott Sinclair. The Englishman raced on and hit a post.
In those seconds, a pendulum swung. From the next corner, Danny Wilson lost Moussa Dembele and the striker smashed his shot past Wes Foderingham.
Celtic switched gears at the beginning of the second half. They came in waves. Clever and relentless.
Dembele sclaffed when he might have scored. James Forrest had a fine chance in his wake. That went south too. Dembele hit the crossbar. Sinclair hit the side-netting on the follow-up.
The hosts looked punch drunk now, a fighter awaiting the certainty of a knockout. Just when you thought they were gone, they bounded clear. McKay had a shot, Miller, too. Wilson had a diving header that forced a good save from Gordon.
As a modicum of hope re-entered Rangers’ world, Celtic removed it. Patrick Roberts was on the field by now. He found Stuart Armstrong down the right, the midfielder sliding a gorgeous square ball to Sinclair, who put it away.
Celtic’s dominance cranked up after that. Rangers covered up and rarely left the ropes, but in fairness to them, they wouldn’t go down.
Miller slid a shot against Gordon’s post, a breakaway that would have made Rodgers gulp hard.
The bombardment carried on. Armstrong had three chances, Sinclair one, Nir Bitton another. In the midst of it all, Harry Forrester broke free. Had he spotted Joe Dodoo running outside him, there might have been the most thunderous twist, but he couldn’t.
The points were Celtic’s. They began the day with a 16-point advantage. It is now 19 points.
Rangers were left consoling themselves with the feeling that they have moved forward since September’s 5-1 defeat in the Premiership and even since October’s 1-0 loss in the League Cup.
They asked more questions in this match than they did in either of the first two. It didn’t get them a result, but tiny crumbs of comfort are the only things that this unyielding Celtic team are allowing to fall from their table.
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