Scottish Premier League Roundup, Apr. 24
Celtic had a late penalty saved in a 0-0 draw with Rangers at Ibrox but emerged from Sunday’s Old Firm match as the favorites to win the Scottish Premier League title.
Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor dived to his left to tip aside an 82nd-minute spot kick by Greece striker Georgios Samaras, keeping the hosts a point clear of Celtic at the top of the table.
Celtic, however, has a game in hand and with five matches remaining, Neil Lennon’s team is in the driving seat to snatch the title from the defending champions.
"It’s a slight advantage. We have a game in hand and we can’t afford to lose it," Lennon said. "The team can take a lot of confidence today. We were asked a lot of questions and the players answered them."
The match took place against a backdrop of mounting sectarianism but appeared to pass off without any major incident, both on and off the pitch.
A thousand extra police officers were drafted in to prevent violence at this season’s seventh match between the two teams, known as the "Old Firm."
The buildup to the game was overshadowed by news that Lennon and two prominent fans of the club were last week sent letter bombs, which were intercepted before reaching their targets and did not explode.
In February, a Scottish Cup quarterfinal between the teams ended with Rangers having three men sent off – one after the final whistle – while Lennon and Rangers assistant coach Ally McCoist squared up to each other in fiery post-match scenes. Celtic won the game 1-0.
Although tensions remained high for the sixth Old Firm match of 2011, there wasn’t a repeat of such incidents as both sets of players generally behaved well.
Most of the goalmouth incidents happened in an end-to-end second half, with Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty heading wide a gilt-edged chance in the 50th with the goal at his mercy.
Sweden center back Daniel Majstorovic and Honduras left back Emilio Izaguirre had efforts saved at the other end before Samaras was given a chance to win the derby after Rangers midfielder Steven Davis was adjudged to have fouled substitute Anthony Stokes in the area.
McGregor came to the home side’s rescue, ensuring Rangers’ outgoing manager Walter Smith will leave his second stint at the club having lost just 15 of 56 Old Firm matches.
"Obviously Celtic are the favourites right now and are in a position we want to be in," Smith said. "We are on a good run, so from our own point of view we have to keep playing, keep our run going and the pressure that comes at the end of the season could help us."