In what could have been the first Yank vs Yank encounter in the Old Firm, it was not to be. Although Cameron Carter-Vickers went the distance in this 3-0 thriller at Celtic Park, James Sands never left the Rangers bench.
The game was over in the first half as new signing Reo Hatate scored a brace and then set up Liel Abada for a third just before the half-time whistle. The shellshocked Gers did their best to make a game of it in the second half but could not find the back of the Celtic net in their embarrassing display.
Carter-Vickers put in a solid performance in the heart of the Hoops’ defense as he was able to assist Joe Hart in keeping a clean sheet.
The hosts applied the pressure from the get-go, bearing down on Allan McGregor’s goal; and it didn’t take long to make that pressure pay off. In the fifth minute, the 40-year-old former Scotland #1 was picking the ball out of the back of his net.
The goal came from a corner kick that had a bit of luck for the hosts. Defenders Calvin Bassey and James Tavernier both went to clear the ball out of the box and collided in the process, leaving them both on the deck.
The ball only made it just outside the 18, and right in front of the newly signed Japanese midfielder. He had enough time and space to take a touch, pick his spot and smash it inside of the far post.
Ten minutes later it could have been 2-0 when Tavernier lost out on a poor hospital pass to him that ended up as a shot that would have been a goal had it not been for a fine McGregor save. He knocked it away but then it came right back at him for the double save. Minutes later Georgios Giakoumakis was denied by the ageless keeper.
The tempo and pace of the game were just too much for the visitors who struggled to get a foothold and compete on equal terms.
It was just after the half hour mark when Rangers finally fired a shot in anger and it came from the foot of Ryan Kent. His shot from disnace however did not trouble Joe Hart in the least.
Joseph Ayodele-Aribo then sliced the defense apart with his through ball for Scott Arfield, but the weight of the pass was just a bit heavy and the former England keeper scooped it up before the Canadian could make contact.
Instead of getting back on level terms, at the other end of the field Hatate must have thought it was déjà vu all over again when he found himself back at the top of the box, though this time on the other side of the D, after receiving the ball from Abada. Once again, there was time to take a touch and pick his spot before pulling the trigger and doubling the lead.
The man from Japan returned the favor in first half stoppage time when he flew up the left flank, floated the ball in front of goal for the sneaky advancing Israeli to send it past a hapless McGregor.
Coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst made a triple change at the start of the second half that improved Rangers’ performance, but not enough to get anything from the game.
While the visitors did pick up the pace, you could forgive Celtic for not being as aggressive as they had been, but a three -goal lead will do that to a team.
Carter-Vickers made a crucial header that otherwise would have ended up in the back of Hart’s net from a corner kick. There were also a couple other chances with the best being a Jack Ryan screamer that beat the Englishman but not the crossbar.
The victory now puts the Hoops back into first place for the first time since August. The lead is just a single point, however, with a lot of games left to play before a champion is crowned.
This could be the wake-up call that van Bronckhorst’s men needed after recently dropping points against Ross County and Aberdeen. They’ll look to get back to winning ways over the weekend when they host Hearts, while Celtic travels to take on Joe Efford and Motherwell.