Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – Rangers reviewed: Silencing the noise and the hype

That wasn’t meant to happen. That was not in the narrative. Not in the script.

I had the unfortunate pleasure yesterday of listening to ‘pundits’ predicting our demise. I must admit, when I saw the line-up and its patchwork nature I did fear a bit. But, on the other hand, it was great going back into this game as ‘the underdog’. Something to rebel against. To fight against.

And for all the many, many words said and opined about Neil Lennon, there isn’t a better man to have in your corner when that is the case. Today, he handed a few on-lookers their dinner and he didn’t miss them afterwards.

But what about the players? Our front players are going to get plaudits most weeks but our defenders deserve the plaudits that they are rightly receiving following this first Glasgow Derby of the season. I said after the game on Thursday night that if we got our defensive shape sorted then we could be in for a great time. We sorted it today when it was least expected. The concentration levels were superb.

You want a central midfielder, playing centre-half, to win everything in the air, make interceptions, put his laces through it, chase a ball out the park and pull his hamstring when most would have just let it go? We had one.

You want a centre-half besieged with rumours about his ability, being a leader and showing that he gets it and gets us, whatever that is? We had one. Look up ‘dominating’ in the dictionary and if it doesn’t say Christopher Jullien then return it to the shop and get your money back.

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You want a right-back, who hasn’t really played right-back that often, who is returning from injury, hassle the life out of those who came anywhere near his right-hand side, being great going forward, solid in the tackle, reading the game like a scholar of fine arts, then moving to centre-half and back pocketing the best (cough) striker in Scotland? We had one.

You want a ridiculed left-back, to stand and be counted, be willing to be involved in the fight and show more character than all our players put together on our last two visits there? We had one.

You want a right-back to come on when he probably doesn’t know the names of his team-mates, to shell a ball 50 yards from a throw-in, to take a shocking challenge and to throw his body on the line in the name of CELTIC? We had one.

We will have more finesse in games this season. Ryan Christie’s graft will be more creative, Calum McGregor will find more productive forward passes, James Forrest will have more rewarding afternoons but today was a day when just being and standing up was enough. It was more than enough. Rangers tried to bully us. They found their playbook and pressed repeat but they discovered a different animal. One that was willing to look it in the eye and say: “See last season? That’s gone. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The kick-off caught everyone by surprise. Straight out the park, drag us high up the pitch. Unlike Hearts last week, we had a plan and the talent to implement our raid into enemy turf and deliver the message. Rangers showed they feared our attacking talent but I don’t think they expected what they got. A team that was willing to do the boilersuit stuff and was more than happy to play in pockets of space. The message was clear. We are more than happy if you want a football game. We also more than happy if you want a scrappy contest of second balls.

Edouard struck panic and fear into Goldson and Katic. Mikey Johnston exorcised some of his Ibrox demons. The intelligence of Ntcham was instrumental in crafting out an opening for Jonny Hayes, who scored a goal that every single Celtic fan dreams of scoring. He deserves that moment. Scott Brown lost his verve? Behave. I’m scolded on that one.

We had a lot of unknowns today. We had lost a lot of experience. We had lost a lot of leaders. We might have just discovered a new breed. It’s been a good week.

Kevin Graham

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