Celtic's ninth league win in succession, earned as Joe Ledley powered home a header from Charlie Mulgrew's corner, means they will top the table going into 2012.
For Neil Lennon this represents quite a turnaround from a position where people were questioning his position as the Celtic manager in the not so distant past. But this was a game of two headers.
If Celtic were worthy of their victory on account of their second-half display, Rangers had grievance to rub into the open wound of Old Firm defeat. The visitors believed they should have been sent ahead by a seventh-minute Lee Wallace header, which the match officials adjudged not to have crossed the line.
"I think it definitely crossed the line but sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't," said the Rangers manager, Ally McCoist.
"Lee, and I think it was Nikica Jelavic standing alongside him, were both fairly convinced it had crossed the line. But there is no point mumping and moaning about it. We never got it, so we have to move on."
McCoist's admirable stance aside, the manager will be aware his players failed to apply necessary amounts of pressure on the Celtic goal after Ledley's header. McCoist added that he knew nothing about a reported Queens Park Rangers bid for Jelavic.
Celtic's biggest danger here seemed to be the prospect that they would wilt under the weight of expectation. Rangers were brisk and menacing in the opening minutes. Their lead in the league stood at 15 points in early November. Celtic held two matches in hand then but the form of Lennon's team over these intervening weeks has been admirable.
"This is the best Christmas and new year I've had," said Lennon. "Beating Rangers is always special but in the circumstances I thought the players handled the pressure very well."
Within seven minutes the visitors came about as close as they could to taking the lead in the kind of incident which is not readily forgotten in this city. It will trigger claim, counterclaim and conspiracy theories for months.
Sone Aluko, fed by Lee McCulloch, crossed for Wallace at the back post. The former Hearts player's header was clawed on to a post by Fraser Forster. Television replays appeared to show the whole ball to have crossed the line before the goalkeeper's intervention. "Nah, it was not a goal. That's just my opinion," said Lennon, with a hint of mischief in his voice.
In defence of the assistant referee, George Drummond, Forster's body would have blocked his view.
A Celtic penalty claim followed immediately when Kyle Bartley appeared to block a Georgios Samaras attempt witha hand. During a high-tempo, first-half spell Scott Brown and Gary Hooper both tested the Rangers goalkeeper, Allan McGregor.
Celtic's early spells of possession were offset by their weakness in defence. Carlos Bocanegra almost highlighted that, when he failed to connect properly at close-range after Jelavic knocked an Aluko corner down into his path. Bocanegra's only excuse for a dreadful attempt is that, as a centre-back, he is not accustomed to being in such advanced positions.
As ever, it was frantic, raucous and pulsating. An excellent block by Bartley denied Samaras five minutes after the restart. James Forrest was next to try his luck but McGregor saved. From the subsequent corner, however, Celtic took the lead. Ledley rose impressively at Mulgrew's inswinging kick to guide his header home. McCoist bemoaned the "switching off" of his defenders. The goal was just reward for Ledley's admirable versatility.
An errant Drummond flag halted Celtic's quest to double their lead. Hooper, sent through by Beram Kayal, was penalised for being offside when he looked anything but.
David Healy, brought from the Rangers bench to add attacking impetus to McCoist's team, instead prompted fury in the Celtic ranks with a wild tackle on Forrest. That was about as threatening as Rangers got in the closing stages. Lennon's destiny is now in his own hands. The next challenge for Celtic is to close out a lead.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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