Philippe Clement craves a victorious Rangers but there's only one Maximus in this Colosseum – title analysis

Philippe Clement wanted his team to perform like gladiators in the derby.

But in this ancient old city right now, there’s only one Maximus. And yesterday at the Colosseum in the east end of Glasgow, once again Brendan Rodgers emerged victorious. Not only did Celtic’s manager win another fight with Rangers – he also killed off their faint title hopes. In the final Old Firm joust of the league season, Rodgers’ team came out on top.

And the result all but wrapped up three-in-a-row for the 60,000 supporters who had roared them into battle. For Gers, the thumbs-down went to John Lundstram. After scoring an own goal to put Celtic 2-0 up he fell on his own sword by accepting a worthy red card from ref Willie Collum. That eliminated any chance Clement’s team had of extending this title race by a few more days at least.

Rangers’ last win here was four years ago. In their last 15 league visits, they’ve taken 10 points from a possible 45. And no one could begrudge Rodgers yesterday, who held his arm aloft at full-time after maintaining his near-perfect Old Firm record. The magnitude of this game was illustrated by the return of Henrik Larsson to Celtic Park. The King of Kings, a club icon, is rarely seen at Paradise these days but was given a hero’s welcome.

But yesterday was all about Celtic’s current crop. And Rodgers’ starting line-up almost picked itself. Daizen Maeda’s inclusion – with the sole aim of tormenting James Tavernier – was always on the cards. And if it was a choice between Nicolas Kuhn or James Forrest for an Old Firm derby, there was only going to be one winner, with the Scot’s experience vital.

For Clement it was more of a head-scratcher as the Belgian dealt with a raft of injuries. Ben Davies – a forgotten man at Ibrox until a week ago – was his only option at centre-back alongside John Souttar. And it was a similar story up front. Without the pace of Rabbi Matondo or Abdallah Sima, the temperamental Fabio Silva and a full-back in Dujon Sterling had to be deployed as wide men.

What was more vital for Clement was his game-plan. Because every man and their dog in this city knew Celtic would fly out the traps and go for Rangers’ throat. The Belgian took a pragmatic approach and who could blame him? Gers might still have been chasing the title – but there had to be an element of common sense.

Celtic's Daizen Maeda celebrates with fans after Rangers' John Lundstram scores an own goal
Celtic's Daizen Maeda celebrates with fans after Rangers' John Lundstram scores an own goal -Credit:SNS Group

Clement’s men sat in and took no chances in playing long and direct. And, for 36 minutes, it worked. They got through the early Celtic storm. Silva actually had a couple of chances to open the scoring. His first was wide and the second, a gilt-edged opening, was wasted at the back post from a Sterling cross. In an attacking sense, that was all they could muster while keeper Jack Butland had got them out of jail with a stunning stop to deny Kyogo Furuhashi. Matt O’Riley and Callum McGregor also blasted shots inches off target in that opening half hour.

Rangers were struggling to nullify the Hoops skipper. Tom Lawrence, playing as a No.10, just wasn’t willing to track McGregor when he broke free from his midfield anchor role. And it was no surprise that’s where the first goal originated from. Lawrence’s half-hearted attempt to follow him wasn’t good enough and McGregor was allowed to pick out his partner O’Riley.

He took a touch and thundered a shot low past Butland to set the place alight. Celtic had lift-off and a second goal moments later almost took the roof off. This time, Cameron Carter-Vickers picked out Maeda with a brilliant raking pass to the left flank. His touch was exquisite, his cut-back dangerous – and as Lundstram stretched to cut it out he diverted the ball past Butland for 2-0. Some Celtic fans were on the pitch as the quick-fire double felt like title-winning moments.

VAR checked if Maeda had been offside in the build-up and supporters were still celebrating when Rangers somehow pulled a goal back. Borna Barisic hung up a cross for Sterling to head back across goal and set up Dessers to nod in from close range. The game had been lively from kick-off – but in the space of six minutes it had exploded. And we weren’t done for the first half even if Gers’ title hopes were.

Just as it looked like they could apply a bit of pressure, Lundstram overstepped the mark by flying into a challenge on Alistair Johnston. His intentions were good as Gers tried to press Celtic’s defenders high. But the Scouser was wild with his lunge. Initially, ref Willie Collum dished out a yellow. But after a second look at his VAR monitor it was, not surprisingly, upped to red.

Now Clement’s team had a monumental task on their hands. And if Rodgers wanted to have fun, being 2-1 up against 10 men was probably the time to do it. For the neutral it felt like the sending-off killed a contest which had been brewing just nicely. But Celtic had a job to do. And what a chance they had to put the game to bed early in the second half. Mo Diomande tripped O’Riley in the box and Collum gave a penalty. After a ridiculously long wait and being sent to the VAR screen, he stuck to his guns – only for Butland to deny O’Riley from the spot.

From then on, it was one-way traffic with Rangers hanging on at the back and praying for a chance on the break. Maeda had two goals ruled out for offside, Kuhn was dangerous off the bench and fellow sub Adam Idah had a chance in injury time to seal it – but shot wide. There were nerves from the crowd in the dying embers of the game as Rodgers’ men crawled over the line.

But the history of this fixture tells you there was no need for anxiety – only excitement for another title party next week.