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Rangers inflicted the first Old Firm derby blow in a historic Scottish Premiership campaign – and moved four points clear at the top – with a dominant 2-0 win at Celtic Park.

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In the first Glasgow derby without fans, Steven Gerrard’s side took an early lead when Connor Goldson headed in James Tavernier’s free-kick.

And the Rangers centre-back then also tapped in after the break to finish off a lacklustre and unfamiliar Celtic side shorn of four players due to Covid-19 protocols.

The win laid down a marker in a significant season, as the Ibrox side attempt to prevent their city rivals from winning an unprecedented 10th consecutive title.

Neil Lennon’s team do still have a game in hand and were without star striker Odsonne Edouard and key midfielder Ryan Christie, but were nonetheless outclassed again in the unique fan-less derby.

Despite losing two of the three Old Firm meetings last season, Gerrard’s team could rightly lay claim to having looked the more accomplished side in those games.

They won the midfield battle in two of the three contests, and started in exactly the same vein with crisp passing and movement in this one. 

Celtic – with five derby debutants in their ranks, including academy player Stephen Welsh at centre-back – looked unsure of themselves in possession.

The cauldron atmosphere can be suffocating in these games, but a lack of fans resulted in a more compelling tactical battle, which Rangers had the better of. 

Tavernier and Borna Barisic roamed down the flanks and into spaces vacated by Celtic’s wing-backs, combining with Ryan Kent and Brandon Barker at will.

What Gerrard’s side can always rely on is quality of delivery from captain Tavernier, and his fine free-kick allowed Goldson to steer Rangers in front after just eight minutes. Celtic only managed a forlorn lob over the top from Mohamed Elyounoussi in reply before the break after he had impressively robbed Goldson.

The champions’ first-half display conformed to their recent form – if not results – as they lacked tempo and urgency. Lennon made no changes at the break, and his side continued to struggle with movement in forward areas. 

Patryk Klimala was anonymous up front while Albian Ajeti made little impact when he came on midway through the second period.

Rangers, meanwhile, showed their sharpness in stretching their advantage as Scott Arfield, Glen Kamara and Alfredo Morelos all combined on the edge of the box before the former’s delivery fell to Goldson to bundle home at the second attempt.

Kent was twice denied by a lunging Kristoffer Ajer as Rangers threatened to embarrass their rivals on their own patch, while Celtic’s only flirtation with goal came when substitute Leigh Griffiths managed to round Allan McGregor but could not find the target.

The fact Celtic – who have secured 53 points from a possible 57 since the last meeting between the sides – did not manage a shot on target illustrates the scale of Rangers’ comfort.

Man of the match – Glen Kamara

What did we learn?

Rangers have undoubtedly worked out how to get the better of their rivals. Once again they shut them down in midfield and exerted control through their passing and composure. It was a complete performance.

What remains to be seen is whether this is a significant step forward. We have seen excellent Old Firm performances before from Gerrard’s side, with no trophies to show for it. We will only know whether they are the real deal this time if they are in the fight come April – but the signs are good.

As for Celtic, it seems Lennon’s favoured 3-5-2 formation is not working, which is alarming given the recruitment was focussed on filling those specific positions. Next to Rangers, they looked like a team without a clear identity, but rather a clutch of individuals who are performing below their ability.

The positive for them is that nothing is won in October, and they are the experts at bouncing back from rare defeats. Nonetheless there is undoubted concern about their current level of performance.

What’s next?

Both sides are in Europa League action on Thursday. Rangers travel to Belgium to face Standard Liege (17:55 BST), while it doesn’t get any easier for Celtic, who host AC Milan (20:00 BST).