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Monday, March 4, 2024

Kyogo stunner shows Rangers where they trail Celtic

Kyogo stunner shows Rangers where they trail Celtic


Kyogo Furuhashi (second right) fired Celtic into a 2-0 lead against Rangers

Be it a right-foot volley in the sunshine of early autumn at Ibrox, or a left-foot pearler in the iciness of mid-winter at Celtic Park, Kyogo Furuhashi continues to be the bogeyman for all seasons as far as Rangers are concerned.

The blizzard of speed and accuracy of his goal on Saturday was something to see. The little take-and-turn in one movement, the bit of footwork that imbalanced Connor Goldson, the sudden creation of a yard of space and the finish, a curling thing of wonder high beyond Jack Butland, the best goalkeeper in the country.

That piece of dynamism turned a 1-0 into a 2-0. It was his seventh goal against Rangers and the third time one of his strikes proved decisive against the old enemy.

How the visitors must wish they had somebody like him, because Cyriel Dessers didn’t get the job done at Celtic Park and you can scan the rest of the dressing-room for as long as you want for a comparison. There isn’t one.

In their dreams they will imagine their new short-term loan signing, Fabio Silva, conjuring some of the same things in his time in Scotland as Kyogo does as a matter of routine. It’s a bit of a stretch. The Portuguese is a hope – Kyogo is a reality.

There was controversy, of course. What Glasgow derby is complete without it?

Just before the break, Rangers looked like they might have had a penalty when Alistair Johnston appeared to brush the ball out of his play with his hand. VAR moved in and confusion took hold.

Word came through from the Scottish FA that the penalty wasn’t given because the right-back’s hand wasn’t in an unnatural position. Then, extra word came through that there was an offside in an earlier phase of play. Which was it? The first, or second, or both?

The correct decision was reached (offside earlier in the move), but the communication was cack-handed. If you were inside the stadium without access to the outside world, you hadn’t a clue what was going on. Pay your money and get cast into the dark in the brave new world of VAR. Nice.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement was angry in the aftermath and his club called on the SFA to release the audio of the decision-making process to the club. Pigs might fly and all that.

Johnston was at the centre of another incident that had Rangers folk calling for a red card. Already on a yellow, he caught Abdallah Sima with a swinging arm that looked as unintentional as it did clumsy. He got the benefit of the doubt.

When a red was delivered, it was shown to Rangers centre-half Leon Balogun. There was, with added time, half an hour to play and Celtic were already ahead by two goals.

You remembered the halcyon days of the first coming of Brendan Rodgers and the unmerciful hidings his team doled out to their chums from across the city. Could this be another?

In fact, it was the opposite. Ten-man Rangers made a game of it. James Tavernier delivered a third goal of brilliance on the day and there was anxiety in the Celtic ranks until the last whistle.

Brutal margin between victory, stalemate or defeat

The look on Celtic manager Rodgers’ face told the story. Joy but also relief. Had this gone wrong then 60,000 supporters would have quickly morphed into 60,000 fire-breathing critics.

We didn’t get a glimpse of the Celtic board on that last whistle, but they will have known the fine and brutal margin that separated victory from stalemate or defeat.

Celtic are now back in control of their own destiny in the league, but if this game told us anything, it was that nothing will come as easy to them in the months ahead as it did throughout the Rodgers years from 2016.

Things have moved on. Rangers are stickier under Clement compared to the soft touches of before.

The odds are with Celtic now though. Reo Hatate and Liel Abada are back and that can only improve them in terms of creativity, goals and extra bits of class. Both of them may feel like new signings to Rodgers given he’s only seen them fleetingly since his return.

They’ll be better when Cameron Carter-Vickers is restored and if Maik Nawrocki’s impressive cameo off the bench – from his previous spot in nowheresville – is anything to go by, they have good cover at centre-half.

They also have the financial muscle to bring in the kind of first-team-ready players that Rodgers clearly craves. Celtic, you fancy, will be considerably more convincing in the second half of the season than they have been in the first.

Which is going to make it hard for Rangers, but in Clement they trust. He has improved players he’s inherited and has had to deal with a desperate run of injuries. The progress he’s made is apparent.

But the big test starts now for the Belgian. The January transfer window is enormous for both clubs, but if anything, it’s bigger for Rangers because they have more surgery to do.

Silva is already in. Though money is tight, that can’t be the end of it.

Rangers need a clone of McGregor

For much of Saturday, Celtic bossed the middle of the park and Callum McGregor was the dominant force in there. He didn’t get player of the match – maybe it’s become too obvious – but he was.

If Rangers are looking for a version of Kyogo then they also need a clone of McGregor. Good luck with that.

To go the distance, they need an upgrade on Todd Cantwell, who’s fine when there’s some low-hanging fruit to be plucked but less fine when there’s a shift to put in.

Dessers, Sam Lammers, Jose Cifuentes? It’s hard to imagine these players featuring in a league-winning team. Kemar Roofe and Tom Lawrence? Will they ever stay fit enough for long enough?

Clement has answered a lot of questions since he arrived in town, but those questions keep on coming. How much money has he to spend? And how well can he spend it?

It’s difficult to imagine another manager getting more out of the players he already has, but he needs his own picks now. Somehow, Rangers are going to have to find the money in January for Clement to shape the team more in his own image. Dead wood needs to be cut adrift.

Ultimately, this was a day for Rodgers and his players, who have been living through tricky times. There was always going to be an eruption on the full-time whistle on Saturday – one that illustrated Celtic euphoria or one signalling Celtic fury.

It was the former and it must have been music to the ears of the manager and those who brought him back to the bonkers world of football in Glasgow.



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