Celtic fail to show up for final derby, but where did it all go wrong?

A rare off day saw Celtic crash to a humbling 3-0 defeat at Ibrox yesterday, their first loss at the venue since August 2021.  While the result has no impact on the outcome of this season, the manner of the defeat and the lack of fight on show from Celtic has left an unusual and bitter aftertaste.

Having come out on top in the last three Glasgow Derbies, Celtic approached yesterday’s game looking to hammer the final nail in Rangers coffin.  Unfortunately, in front of a hostile Ibrox crowd, Celtic simply failed to turn up and handed Rangers the three points on a silver plate.  And with it, emboldened the “closing of the gap” brigade.

Where Celtic went wrong was discussed in detail at half-time, full-time, and long into the night.  One area that dominated the “what went wrong” discussions revolved around Ange’s team selection and in-game management.


Whisper it if you must, but it’s OK to say that Ange got it wrong with his team selection and in-game management of his substitutions yesterday.  Even the best get it wrong from time to time.

Going into the game minus Alistair Johnston and Cameron Carter-Vickers, the Celtic defence was already weakened in comparison to its full-strength version. Bringing the relatively raw Alex Bernabei into the equation added an extra, and unnecessary, element of risk to the left-hand side of the backline.

Bernabei has shown glimpses of being a promising attacking full-back, more in the mould of a marauding Kieran Tierney than a comfortable baller like Greg Taylor.  The Argentine’s strengths lie in his ability to get forward up the flank with the defensive side of his game in need of some improvement.

Pitting him alongside Glasgow Derby debutant Yuki Kobayashi, who had looked nervous in his last outing at Tynecastle, opened up the left-hand side to being targeted by Rangers.  While Bernabei was not a direct culprit for any of the goals, his deficiencies in defence and inability to fill the Greg Taylor sized hole in the inverted full-back role became evident as the game wore on.

If fit enough to play, Taylor would have brought stability to the left-hand side and provided an extra outlet in midfield when moving inside that could have compensated for Hatate having an off-day.  As it was, Bernabei’s inclusion disjointed the defence and midfield and Celtic were made to pay the price.


While an argument can be made that Bernabei at least did not give up or hide, the same could not be said for the majority of the midfield and attack.

Matt O’Riley gets pass marks for his effort, as does Jota who, while starved of the ball, at least tried to make something happen when he was in possession of the football.  For the others, the reviews are not so kind.

McGregor and Hatate were yards off the pace in midfield.  We’ve seen this before from Hatate in big games – think back to last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final – where the Japanese midfielder has failed to get on the ball and make things happen.

Hatate is not a ball-winner, therefore if he’s not on the ball, he’s not offering much else at times.  Tomoki Iwata, who sat on the bench until the 75th minute, was an option Ange should have called upon earlier, if not from the start.  Iwata has already shown an ability to shore up the midfield in recent games against Rangers and could have provided a better option for this game.

A double-pivot of McGregor and Iwata would have given Celtic more athleticism and combativeness against Lundstram and Raskin in the middle of the park, while maintaining a high level of passing ability in the midfield; regardless of whether this was the starting option or an earlier in-game change while there was still a chance to get back into it.

Speaking of Callum McGregor, the normally reliable captain was posted missing for long spells yesterday and unable to positively influence the game.  A quiet Callum is not good news for Celtic and generally means that the midfield battle has been lost.


Further up the field, the inclusions of Abada, at the expense of Maeda, and Oh for Kyogo did ultimately blunt the attack.  Maeda has proven himself a crucial cog in the wheel against Rangers this season with his high press on the Rangers backline and untiring engine.

Without his intensity putting Rangers under pressure in their defensive third, the home side was able to build out from the back more and pick passes into midfield under little pressure.  Abada’s only involvements were to set up a golden chance for Oh and fluff one of his own, aside from that, the game largely passed by the young Israeli.

As for Oh, the South Korean forward touched the ball a grand total of 7 times before being replaced just after the hour.  One of those touches very nearly landed in the back of the net and could have changed the complexion of the game had his dink over McCrorie gone in instead of rebounding off the post.

The Oh experiment was one that a large number of Celtic fans were calling for pre-game to give the Rangers defence a more physical threat to face.  But, with the midfield battle lost and no service getting through to him, the experiment was doomed to failure.

Kyogo’s introduction changed nothing in terms of Celtic’s attacking output in the remainder of the game, by then, the match was already lost.  Would playing Kyogo from the start have had a more positive impact on the game?  Recent history suggests it might as Kyogo’s clever off the ball movement could have created space for others to attack.

The result was horrible, the performance even worse, but today we still woke up as Champions.  Ange will make sure a repeat performance will not be tolerated and perhaps for some players yesterday was a timely reminder that the Celtic jersey does not shrink to fit inferior players.

Kevin McCluskie

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