Fashion Sakala wraps up consolation Rangers win over below-par Celtic | Scottish Premiership
Rangers trounced Celtic 3-0 at Ibrox as Michael Beale enjoyed his first win over the Bhoys as their manager.
Todd Cantwell fired the home side into the lead after five breathless minutes before the returning defender John Souttar headed in his first Light Blues goal from a corner on 34 minutes. Fashion Sakala made it 3-0 in the 70th minute to clinch a convincing victory over the below-par Premiership champions.
It was Beale’s first success in five attempts against the Parkhead side since taking over from Giovanni van Bronckhorst last November and it ended Celtic’s 34-game unbeaten domestic run – although Ange Postecoglou’s side remain on course for a domestic treble, with the Scottish Cup final against the Championship side Inverness at Hampden Park to come on 3 June.
If nothing else it was a much-needed marker for Beale and Rangers with a view to next season although they will realise the title and the League Cup were already safely in the Celtic Park trophy room.
Pre-match speculation about lineups ended when it was announced that Souttar was taking over from the injured Ben Davies, Ryan Jack returning to midfield and Rabbi Matondo and Sakala leading the line, with Robby McCrorie again preferred to the veteran Allan McGregor in goal. Postecoglou replaced Greg Taylor with Alexandro Bernabei and brought in the South Korea striker Oh Hyeon-gyu for Kyogo Furuhashi and the winger Liel Abada for Daizen Maeda.
There were no away fans in the stadium because of “safety and security” issues, as was the case when Rangers visited the east end of Glasgow in April, and it was a blistering start from the home side which produced the opener. As the Celtic defence gasped for air, John Lundstram’s shot from 25 yards was parried by Joe Hart and Cantwell reacted quickly to drive the ball through the legs of the Celtic keeper from eight yards.
The visitors’ first real attack moments later almost brought an equaliser. Abada raced clear down the right and when he picked out Oh, the Celtic attacker’s chip beat McCrorie but clipped the post and Rangers recovered. Matondo then broke clear as Celtic pressed but his long-range effort was comfortably saved by Hart.
The home support urged their team forward but the visitors were controlling the game, only to fall further behind when, from a James Tavernier corner, Souttar fended off the Celtic defender Yuki Kobayashi to head past Hart for his first goal since joining the Ibrox club from Hearts in the summer.
As Celtic pushed to get back in the game, there was a penalty appeal when the Light Blues defender Connor Goldson fell hand-first on to the ball but the referee, Steven McLean, played on.
Celtic might have reduced the deficit in the 50th minute when Jack was robbed by Matt O’Riley but after going past Souttar, the midfielder’s chip was brilliantly touched over the bar by McCrorie and the Govan side survived the corner. Moments later at the other end after a Rangers counter, Hart tipped a Cantwell drive round a post, and minutes later saved an angled drive from the former Norwich player – although McLean surprisingly awarded a goal-kick.
Celtic contributed to their own downfall when Sakala took advantage of hesitation between Carl Starfelt and Callum McGregor to race clear, round Hart and tap into an empty net for a victory that, while doing little to halt Celtic’s progression under Postecoglou, allows Beale breathing space to make radical changes to his squad for next season.