Rangers 1-0 Celtic: Neil Lennon critical of Nir Bitton red as Steven Gerrard says Rangers' season 'starts now'
Celtic boss Neil Lennon criticised referee Bobby Madden for sending off Nir Bitton in Saturday’s Old Firm derby defeat to Rangers, with Steven Gerrard claiming “our season starts now”.
Bitton was dismissed in the 62nd minute at Ibrox after pulling down Alfredo Morelos and was adjudged to have denied him a goalscoring opportunity. Callum McGregor’s own goal shortly afterwards handed Rangers a 1-0 win and sent them 19 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
The red card proved to be a turning point in the game and Lennon was adamant that his defender should not have been sent off.
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He told Sky Sports: “I’m bitterly disappointed as I thought we were the better team. The referee has made the wrong decision that has changed the course of the game. It’s not a sending off… it’s a foul, but we had (Kristoffer) Ajer coming round on the cover.
“It wasn’t a clear goalscoring opportunity and I felt he was too quick to get the red card out. It changed the course of the game as we were in total control, dominating the game.
“We’ve been done by a pretty poor refereeing decision. I don’t think he was great all day. Nir got himself in the wrong body position but we had Ajer on the cover. Our goalkeeper had nothing to do today, and we felt the goal was coming up until the red card. In a game of this magnitude, it was a rash decision from the referee. We didn’t have the luck and we made Rangers look very ordinary today.”
Gerrard: Our season starts now
The result sees Rangers 19 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership – although Celtic have three games in hand – and they are yet to be beaten in the league this season. It was also their second Old Firm win of the season, keeping a clean sheet in both games.
Gers manager Gerrard admitted his side were not at their best on Saturday, with man-of-the-match Allan McGregor singled out for praise after his performance in goal.
Gerrard told Sky Sports: “It’s another win and another clean sheet. I’m proud of the team in terms of their efforts, but in the first half we weren’t good enough. We weren’t ourselves and I thought we were second best in a lot of areas.
“There was a big improvement in the second half. We were getting up to people and we were more aggressive. We were believing in ourselves in what we were trying to do. The sending off was a major incident in the game, and there only looked like one team was going to win it from there.
“I asked the players how much they wanted to win a derby, especially here at Ibrox. We couldn’t be passive and second best. Credit to Celtic in that first half, but we will remain humble now having stretched our lead. We’re not always going to be pretty on the eye.
“It’s all about the outcome, and it’s a good sign for us to win despite not being at our best. McGregor was outstanding. He’s a world-class goalkeeper and he’s reliable. I already knew about him but I know even more now why he’s been successful at this club. He’s bailed us out on a number of occasions. We will look to Aberdeen now and there’s a lot of obstacles still to get over. Today was about making a statement but we don’t look at leads. Our season starts now.”
Allan McGregor: The boys dug it out well
McGregor hopes Rangers have taken a major step towards the Scottish Premiership title with their 1-0 victory over Celtic.
The Ibrox stopper broke Hoops’ hearts with three world-class saves as his side registered a 14th successive league victory.
McGregor told Sky Sports: “Hopefully in five months’ time it will be a huge win. I thought we were really, really poor in the first half and the 15 minutes before the sending off occurred.
“We were a wee bit better after that but the win is the most important thing. I’ve no idea why but they looked hungrier first half but we managed to get the win.
“I wasn’t annoyed at having to be so busy. It’s part and parcel of the game, you need to focus and be ready for anything that is thrown at you.
“But I was annoyed at how bad we were. I keep repeating myself, the win is the most important thing.
“The boys dug it out well. If you go back to Walter’s (Smith) era, he was really good at that but that comes from the players and the messages the manager gives to us to carry out.”
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