Rangers suffered their first defeat under Philippe Clement in the New Year Old Firm. Goals from Paulo Bernardo and Kyogo earned Celtic a 2-1 win at Parkhead.

The visitors had missed opportunities to lament and referee decisions to question come the full-time whistle. Although a handball penalty claim by Alasdair Johnson wasn’t considered by VAR due to an offside, the Celtic right-back was perhaps fortunate to escape a red card later in the game for a second yellow after catching Abdallah Sima with an elbow. Leon Balogun would be shown red before the game’s end after taking out Daizen Maeda as the last man.

The Rangers Review picks apart the game’s big talking points below…

A reality check for Rangers 

Rangers approached this game quietly confident, unbeaten in 16 matches since Clement’s arrival and boosted by the news that Connor Goldson and John Lundstram were fit to start the match. Celtic had picked up form in recent weeks but still had two league defeats to their name this month. Although there was no opportunity for Rangers to go top of the table with a midweek tie against Ross County called off days ago the pre-match sense of optimism to alter the course of the title race was obvious. Although this is not a result that ends the Ibrox side’s hope of a title challenge by any means it will prove a reality check heading into the winter break. Rangers have now lost both Old Firm ties this season and despite creating more than enough to enter half-time level at least if not ahead, they were unable to take their moments. That, ultimately, has been the difference for too long in these fixtures. Bernardo scored a well-taken strike after Sima’s poor defensive header from a first-half corner before Kyogo’s stunning individual effort at the start of the second half sealed things. Clement has started above expectations and lifted the mood considerably at Ibrox over these past two and a half months. Today was a reminder of the scale of the task still at hand for the Belgian.

Rangers have moments but miss them 

As Kyogo’s stunning goal flew into the net just after the half-time whistle had blown, this fixture once again offered a reminder of an issue that’s hampered Rangers  for too long - without incisive attackers to score half-chances, any possibility of a result proved only hopeful in hindsight. Celtic scored when they were on top before the break while Rangers failed to take the chances that were handed to them throughout the 90 minutes. Although there were good moments in this performance a perenial lack of finishing chances is not isolated to Old Firm games in this season.

Cyriel Dessers earned a one-v-one chance through effective pressing but failed to pull the trigger as he approached goal, allowing Johnson to recover his position and intercept. To not pull the trigger was mind-boggling. Todd Cantwell was unable to influence the game effectively from his No.10 berth, too often appearing a step behind or making the wrong decision. During numerous other moments in transition, Clement’s attackers simply failed to punish the opposition. To win these fixtures in these circumstances, you need to be opportunistic and ruthless. Today in Glasgow’s East End Rangers were not either. The aspect that will frustrate supporters most about this fixture is not only a defeat but the fact that there was potential for Rangers to enjoy a far better day. 

A story of two styles 

Celtic took risks when passing out from the back throughout the game. Ultimately their mistakes were not punished and in contrast, the home side were still able to exploit the upside of their approach by building attacks and enjoying territory. Clement’s side often created more directly, looking for the runs of Sima or the feet of Ross McCausland. Their lack of building through the thirds ensured that when under pressure, notably before the home side’s opener, Rangers struggled to relieve the momentum they were under and get up the pitch. Despite playing a chunk of the game with 10 men it was the visitors who shaded the xG 0.99 to 0.7 overall. However, the scoreline will not remember that fact. On a day where neither side hit their top level, it was Celtic who showed a higher floor. 

The need for big players as Tavernier converts again

Cantwell was unable to influence the game effectively at No.10 while Dessers missed his moments as the team’s striker. To win these matches Rangers require leaders in the attack to shift the fine margins in their favour but Clement could not count on form attackers on the day. Typically, James Tavernier did have his say before the full-time whistle with a stunning free-kick right into Joe Hart’s top corner.

That moment in and of itself was indicative of Rangers’ issue, however. For so long they’ve lacked anyone in the attacking positions capable of providing moments under pressure like their captain and a late consolation goal would only be scored in vain. Clement spoke on Sky Sports pre-match about only some players in the dressing room being true winners and this game showed why. Titles are won in big moments by big individuals. To be successful this season and moving forward, Clement must unearth players in the final third with the capabilities of his captain.