Rangers display title credentials

Rangers 3 Celtic 0

Rangers 3 Celtic 0

Rangers displayed their title credentials by claiming an emphatic victory in the first Old Firm derby of the season.

A double from Nacho Novo and a Barry Ferguson goal secured the win which allowed Rangers to move level with rivals Celtic in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

Walter Smith had claimed last season's derby victories meant nothing because Celtic were already Scottish champions in waiting by then.

But today's result could prove significant in what looks set to be one of the closest title races in years.

Rangers and Celtic both received injury boosts ahead of today's clash at Ibrox, with goalkeeper Allan McGregor, Alan Hutton, Scott Brown and Gary Caldwell all back in action despite having to withdraw from international duty.

Celtic boss Gordon Strachan had expressed fears that fans would be short-changed because players from both sides would be suffering fatigue following Scotland's double-headers against Ukraine and Georgia.

Instead, with an electric atmosphere acting as the back-drop, the opening exchanges suggested this game was set to be another Old Firm classic.

The first chance of the match fell to Celtic when Scott McDonald, in the lone striker role, tried his luck with an audacious overhead kick which McGregor tipped just wide.

Then, in keeping with the highly-charged atmosphere surrounding these fixtures, a melee involving players from both sides broke out in the goalmouth at the resultant corner but referee Mike McCurry brandished just one yellow card, to McDonald, with five minutes gone.

At the other end, Charlie Adam exchanged a one-two with Novo before charging towards goal but he was crowded out by Caldwell and the chance was lost.

Rangers then found themselves under pressure when David Weir fouled Shunsuke Nakamura just outside the box and the Japan international stepped up for the free-kick.

Despite carving out a reputation as a deadball specialist, Nakamura blasted well over the crossbar to the jeers of the home crowd.

McDonald then drew a decent save from McGregor with a snapshot from the right flank, as Celtic pressed for the opener.

Massimo Donati followed McDonald into the referee's book for hacking down Alan Hutton after 25 minutes before Rangers surged into the lead two minutes later.

This time there was no-one to stop Hutton's blistering run down the right and the full-back's cross was met by Novo, who burst into the box and sent a diving header past Artur Boruc from six yards.

Brown became the third Celtic player to be cautioned for a challenge on Sasa Papac, before McGregor was again called into action to tip a thunderous 35-yard drive from Jiri Jarosik just over.

There was a further blow for Celtic shortly before the break when skipper Stephen McManus left the pitch on a stretcher.

He had taken a head knock for his country at Hampden last Saturday and again suffered a sickening clash of heads with Daniel Cousin, before being replaced by John Kennedy.

Celtic were out of the traps quickly after the break, Jarosik firing just wide before Caldwell tested McGregor with a decent effort.

Instead, it was Rangers who found the back of the net again with 56 minutes gone.

Lee McCulloch's shot was blocked by Darren O'Dea but the rebound broke to Ferguson and the Rangers skipper gleefully rifled home from 12 yards.

Nakamura was then withdrawn for Aiden McGeady, who was booked within two minutes of being on the pitch, along with fellow substitute Kennedy, who had been cautioned shortly after the restart.

The yellow cards were stacking up for Celtic and Jarosik took the crime count to six when he was cautioned for a foul on Weir.

Donati then squandered a great chance to haul Celtic back into the game with a bullet header, which looked to have McGregor beaten, but sneaked past the goalkeeper's right-hand post.

However, there was to be no way back for the Hoops when Evander Sno tripped Adam in the box and Novo lashed home his second of the day from the penalty spot after 78 minutes.

Ibrox gave the Spanish striker a standing ovation when he left the pitch seconds later for Steven Naismith, while Celtic fans headed for the exits.

The match then ended the way it had started with a scrap involving several players from both sides, ensuring a fiery climax to this most explosive of fixtures as McGregor, Hutton, Boruc, Lee Naylor and O'Dea all went into the referee's book.

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