Only time will tell whether Michael Beale has as much faith in the Rangers squad he inherited from Giovanni van Bronckhorst as public utterances would suggest.
Had Beale’s men held onto the lead which existed with 87 minutes of this scrappy Old Firm clash played, the manager would have had cause to scoff at those who insist major surgery is required at Ibrox. The suspicion remains that Beale, now five matches into his tenure, is playing a game of public relations; this Rangers group are serial failures at domestic level. Beale has been brought here to somehow buck that trend.
Celtic, who were well short of their best for all but the opening half-hour, will claim a moral victory on account of Kyogo Furuhashi’s late equaliser. Ange Postecoglou’s team retain a nine-point advantage in Scotland’s top flight, which should prove insurmountable for Beale and Rangers. Furuhashi’s first goal in a Glasgow derby arrived when his teammates looked in danger of running out of ideas.
“Yet again, when it was required the players found the will and character to get a result,” said Postecoglou. “It would have been easy at 2-1 to be resigned to our fate but this group are never done.” The Australian admitted Celtic “lost our way a little bit” but shrugged off any reasoning for that. “They are human beings,” added Postecoglou. “They are not robots. This is a big occasion, a big game.”
It was one that stuttered and stalled as opposed to ripping and roaring. Celtic started in a manner which suggested they were of a mind to demonstrate the gulf between the Glasgow clubs. Daizen Maeda capitalised on a loose Alfredo Morelos pass before slotting underneath the advancing Allan McGregor. During that opening quarter, Rangers toiled to string three passes together. Celtic’s failing was not pressing home their superiority by way of a second goal.
Beale is due credit for his half-time work. Rangers emerged from the dressing room full of belief, epitomised by Fashion Sakala teeing up Ryan Kent for a sublime equaliser. Kent’s curling shot was beyond the reach of Joe Hart. Soon, Rangers surged ahead. Carl Starfelt’s lazy tackle on Sakala was a clear penalty, which James Tavernier dispatched with typical aplomb.
The resources Celtic could call upon to try to haul themselves back into the game would not be lost on Beale. Liel Abada, Jota, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Aaron Mooy would all be Rangers starters. Celtic’s swift reboot under Postecoglou has afforded them such options, while the Rangers squad has stagnated. The equaliser arrived when Mooy’s reverse pass found Giakoumakis, with the Greek’s cut-back flicking off the Rangers substitute Scott Wright. The hosts had chances to clear which they did not take. Enter Furuhashi, who slammed high into the net. Both teams looked content to settle for a point from there.
“We gave away two really bad goals,” said Beale. “It is disappointing but there were a lot of things in the performance that I needed to see. In terms of a performance level, there’s not a lot between us [and Celtic] if we play at our level.” Many will take legitimate issue with that assessment given Celtic’s ongoing domestic dominance. Beale’s continual focus on players returning from injury to boost Rangers’ fortunes is also dangerous; managers the world over can bemoan the fitness status of key performers.
VAR’s only serious involvement surrounded a Celtic penalty claim. It seemed strange that the referee, John Beaton, was not asked to have a second look at a strong handball shout against Connor Goldson. The key problem with VAR’s arrival in Scottish football is that all too often it feels as if matches are being refereed by someone in front of a monitor far, far away .
There was sectarian singing, the disruption of a minute’s silence in commemoration of the 1971 Ibrox disaster and the sight of various foreign matter tossed between home and away supports. Depressing though it is, none of this should register as a surprise. Neither should the fact Celtic summoned the spirit to keep Rangers a safe distance away. Beale’s activity in the coming weeks will reveal more about his desire – or ability – to bridge that gap.