'Celtic have disappeared off into the distance and left Rangers behind'

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers tasted victory in his first Old Firm derby

All that was missing from the home fans was the collective, and mocking, cry of 'Ole!' as each pass found its target.

It was late in the game at Celtic Park. Rangers were one down in numbers on the field after Philippe Senderos' red card, one down on the touchline after Davie Weir, the Rangers assistant manager, was sent to the stand, and 4-1 down on the scoreboard after Moussa Dembele scored a hat-trick and Scott Sinclair scored in his fifth successive domestic match for his new club.

Rangers were punch-drunk. They had Joey Barton at centre-half and Barrie McKay at left-back. They were a mess.

In that late passing movement, Celtic moved it around in their own half. Six different players got a touch before the ball crossed the halfway line. By the time the 14-pass move ended with Stuart Armstrong pulling his shot across Wes Foderingham and into the corner of his net, all 10 of Celtic's outfield players had touched it.

It was not so much the knockout blow - that had landed long since - but the cherry on top of the knockout blow. There was no refereeing controversy, no excuses. Rangers boss Mark Warburton claimed that Celtic should have a second yellow when Mikael Lustig fouled McKay but he was forgetting that Lustig had never received a first.

Warburton thought he had, but he hadn't. Credit to the much-maligned Willie Collum. He had a good game. It ought to be recognised.

Five is the magic number

Five goals and, truth be told, Celtic did not have to pull out all the stops to score them. Five goals and, you sensed, that Celtic had extra gears had they needed them.

Five was a number that made Brendan Rodgers smile in the aftermath. It's been five years since his father passed away. He spoke about him. He also spoke about Jock Stein, 31 years dead on the day of the game.

Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair
Rangers could not contain goal-scorers Moussa Dembele (left) and Scott Sinclair

He mentioned Stein's values and influence and greatness to his players before kick-off. He said later that he felt that Stein was watching over them. If he was then he would have been nodding approvingly.

Rodgers inherited a bloated and unfocused squad, a group of players who were not feeling particularly good about themselves at the end of last season despite being champions. He has added new players - two of them accounted for four of the goals - and has re-energised many others.

They have morphed into a domestic goal-scoring machine. On the day Celtic played Motherwell in the League Cup they were missing their go-to striker, Leigh Griffiths, and yet still scored five goals. On Saturday, Griffiths was missing again and once more they scored five.

Everything you hear about an Old Firm game tells you that Dembele should not have been able to do what he did. All the players of the past tell you that debutants do not know what they are letting themselves in for, that they think they will be ready for it, but that nothing on earth can ready you for this unique experience.

Nobody told Dembele. The hype dictated that, at 20, he should have been a rabbit in the headlights. Instead, he was a lion. Three goals, a lovely assist for a fourth, all-round dominance. It was the first Old Firm hat-trick in a league match in 50 years.

An Old Firm with no real rivalry

It was an Old Firm match in name only, just as this was Rangers in name only. The alien test is apt here. Had an alien dropped out of the sky before kick-off and was told that this was Scottish football's greatest rivalry he would have grown more puzzled as the day wore on.

How could there be a rivalry when there was no rival?

It was the kind of day that Rangers fans surely feared while being unable to admit to those fears. The insecurities about the construction of their midfield, the doubts about their centre-halves, the pedestrian nature of much of the team, the toil in their four league games to date.

All the signs were there that if Rangers performed as they have been performing and Celtic were 70% of what they can be, then it was going to be comprehensive.

Joey Barton, Scott Brown
Scott Brown won the midfield battle against Joey Barton

Not many would have predicted such a rout, but there was always the possibility.

It took a little while to get going, but when it did it rarely let up. The preamble to the first Celtic goal had Scott Brown beating Joey Barton in the air and then Dembele eluding every Rangers defender to score as he pleased.

At the heart of the second was more Rangers slapstick defending and more Celtic ruthlessness. Rob Kiernan gives it away, Senderos sells himself down the river and Dembele, all class and coolness, finishes.

There was a reaction from Rangers, but they were not good enough to build on it. When you defend as Rangers do then what you have is a castle made of sand. When Dembele advanced on them like a gathering tide ahead of the third goal he attracted the attention of three Rangers defenders. None of them saw Sinclair moving in behind them.

Senderos saw red soon after and two more goals followed - Dembele and that multi-phase effort from Armstrong. Fourteen passes. It was as close to exhibition stuff as you are likely to get in this fixture.

No major gulf?

Warburton tried to pick up the pieces and claimed that he sees no major gulf between the teams. That's the kind of thing that managers say when they are slightly in shock at what has happened to their side. If Warburton did not see it then he was surely the only one.

As Celtic turn their thoughts to Barcelona and Champions League football on Tuesday, there will be some serious self-analysis going on at Ibrox and beyond.

Mark Warburton, Brendan Rodgers
Mark Warburton says there is ''no major gulf'' between his side and Celtic

Warburton picked Niko Kranjcar in his midfield and had to take him off at the break, partly because he feared he would get a second yellow card, partly because he was not anywhere near the pitch of the game. Andy Halliday came on. Why Halliday was not in the team to begin with is a puzzle given how good he was when Rangers beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final last season.

The Rangers manager, like his team, got it wrong. They have eight points from a possible 15 having played just one of the top four teams from last year's Premiership. They have a long and tough road ahead of them.

This might have had the colour and noise and tension of an Old Firm match, but it was not the Old Firm as we know it. Too much has happened. Celtic have disappeared off into the distance.

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