It was a perfect start to 2017 for Tommy McIntyre’s side, with Calvin Miller’s goal on the cusp of half time enough to see off their Glasgow rivals at Murray Park. Yet despite controlling the match for long spells Celtic could not find the finishing touches to make sure of the three points, giving Rangers hope into the game’s closing stages.
It Is a Rangers squad in the process of transition, and Graeme Murty’s side boasted no fewer than three under 17s, including the highly rated Billy Gilmour. Murty’s players will have gained some valuable experience against opponents who have already tested themselves against Europe’s elite in the UEFA Youth League this season.
The European adventure has meanwhile left Celtic with a fixture backlog to fulfil, as well as taking its toll on the players at McIntyre’s disposal. A number of the squad made the winter trip with Brendan Rodgers’ first team, with only Ross Doohan returning in goal after the break in Dubai. All in all Celtic made five changes from the side which lost in December’s last league outing to Dunfermline.
They began purposefully enough though, keen to set the tempo and make up the ground lost in league after that disappointing defeat to the Pars. Celtic looked hungrier closing down in midfield and in getting Theo Archibald and Jack Aitchison running at the Rangers defence. Within the opening 10 minutes Aitchison was testing McCrorie with the home keeper called into action twice from two shots at goal.
Rangers were gradually being pushed deeper and were struggling to clear lines, with Aitchison and Luke Donnelly chasing down Bates and Wilson in their own half as Rangers tried to play the ball out from the back. The hosts tried to find a way into the game, their best chance arriving on 13 minutes, after a long ball over the top by Thomson had Burt bearing down on Doohan from the angle of the box. But under pressure he could only find the side netting with his shot.
And but for the that, the rest of the half was largely one way traffic as Celtic continued to press well up field and build momentum, seeking to switch the play quickly with angled passes down each flank. Yet despite Calvin Miller and Archibald getting into some dangerous areas they struggled to create further clear cut chances.
Murty’s side may have begun to think they had weathered the storm but with 1 minute to go until half time Celtic finally grabbed the advantage, and it was a goal which told the story of the half. Rangers were quickly dispossessed in midfield and Donnelly showed good vision to switch the play for Miller advancing down the left side of the area. His low finish flew past McCrorie who will have been disappointed to lose at his near post.