Rangers rediscover their defensive brilliance in Celtic victory

Tom Gott
Filip Helander led Rangers to victory over Celtic
Filip Helander led Rangers to victory over Celtic / Steve Welsh/Getty Images

After seeing the highs of last season threaten to disappear this year, Sunday's Old Firm derby gave Rangers a real test of their character.

Without manager Steven Gerrard, right-backs James Tavernier and Nathan Patterson as well as goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Jon McLaughlin because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the camp, assistant boss Gary McAllister had to go with a makeshift defence that saw young Robbie McCrorie drafted in in goal and veteran centre-back Leon Balogun deployed on the right.

It could have gone so wrong, but Rangers rose to the occasion and took the opportunity to remind everyone watching why they were the best side in the country by a mile last year.

This wasn't a dominant performance on all fronts, far from it. In attack, Ryan Kent was anonymous and Kemar Roofe struggled to get into the game, and even Alfredo Morelos was unable to get much going for him, but where this match was won was at the back.

The inexperienced McCrorie, whom Celtic had tried to unsettle early on, looked as composed as anyone, racing off his line and throwing his body in the way on the rare occasions he was actually needed.

The 23-year-old, who was making his debut for the side, was likely inspired by the performances of those in front of him.

Balogun's performance at right-back deserves an obscene amount of praise. The 33-year-old, who was tasked with replacing the offensive powerhouse that is Tavernier, brought a more assured approach to the game as he focused solely on stopping Kyogo Furuhashi from getting anything going.

Kyogo was always going to have his moments, but Balogun did superbly well to keep those flashes to a minimum. A truly inspired performance, and one which will make it hard to bring Tavernier or Patterson back into the side.

Goalscorer Filip Helander was excellent and helped out left-back Borna Barisic, whose form had been one of the season's biggest disappointments so far. All the pieces came together perfectly.

For Rangers players, the main goal for the season is beating Celtic. Even if everything else goes wrong, the sole focus is on besting their rivals, and you could see that McAllister had offered a reminder of that before kick-off.

They wanted this, and thanks to some superb defending, they got the much-needed three points that could kick-start their season.