At Ibrox on Saturday, amid local cheers, Rangers overtook Celtic at lightning speed as the champions were on their lap of honour.
A little late in the day to be meaningful in the league, but when you’ve been under the thumb of your closest rivals for as long as Rangers, you have to celebrate days like these, no matter how bittersweet they may be. .
If this were the first Old Firm game of the season, there would be hope for Rangers on the road, but it’s the last and it has regrets in its wake.
They were excellent and delivered a performance that caused a stir among their own people. The caveats of Celtic having already won the title and entering this one missing three-quarters of their regular back will not worry them. Rangers needed it, in every way possible.
Michael Beale will be a relieved man. For him, the stakes were high.
Had he lost another game to Celtic it would have been four in a row and by then many of his own supporters might have wanted to ask how much is too much? He spared a brutal inquisition.
He begins the summer after having shown that he can beat the team of Ange Postecoglou. There may be an asterisk next to victory, but it’s still a victory.
It will rebuild, and it must rebuild heavily regardless of what happened at Ibrox, but there could be calm now where there could have been chaos.
From the first whistle, Rangers had an advantage and Celtic did not. They had aggression and energy and a crowd was roaring at them. Celtic had no Cameron Carter-Vickers, no Greg Taylor, no Alistair Johnson and no stability at the back as a result.
This game was marked by Rangers weaknesses in defense and Rangers wastage up front. The tables have completely turned.
It was Beale’s team that was tough on one side and ruthless on the other. It was Postecoglou’s men who were vulnerable to Joe Hart and poached when attacking Robby McCrorie. Kyogo Furuhashi didn’t start this time. We missed him.
“Cantwell was the best player on the pitch”
Todd Cantwell sent Rangers on their way, beating a shot from close range when Hart parried an effort from John Lundstram. In the old old companies, Rangers men in that kind of position could have blasted him over the bar. Cantwell drove it straight and true, as emphatic as you want it to be.
Cantwell was excellent. Creative, defensive, work rate, overall influence – he was the best player in the park. He scored one and could have scored another.
At one point, he motioned for the crowd to turn up their noise, which they duly did. It was a bit too much for Postecoglou.
In Norwich, Cantwell was once the future child. Elevated within walking distance of Carrow Road. One of them. As a boy rising through the ranks, he always felt struck off. Talented, but not strong enough. A nice player, but not enough dog in him, not enough resilience.
The critics were wrong, at least at first.
Cantwell burst into the Norwich squad with a vengeance from the summer of 2019. He scored in the Premier League against Chelsea in a 3-2 loss. He scored in the Premier League against Manchester City in a 3-2 win. He scored in the Premier League against Everton and Norwich won again, 2-0. He was 21 years old. He is still only 25 years old.
He scored against Arsenal in December, against Wolves in January. He got another against Manchester United in the FA Cup.
He was dazzling. People have been whispering about a £30m move to Aston Villa. The idea at the time that Rangers might one day afford him would have made the town laugh.
What happened? Norwich fans are still trying to figure it out, but the fact is that when a player they were giddy with, a talent who was a gem in their academy, left the club to join Rangers, the overwhelming reaction was one of relief .
He was mercurial. His spark is extinguished. He was distracted. Perhaps there was a touch of earthiness there, a touch of unhealthy arrogance.
On one occasion he stormed down the tunnel when substituted early. He posted cryptic messages on social media about things that upset him at the club. We were talking about a conflict with one manager and then another. Sometimes it spilled out into the public. It wasn’t pretty.
All the while, Norwich fans hoped he would pull himself together and keep his promise, but it was a vain hope. Social networks went after him. It was a mess.
He went to Bournemouth on loan and then back to Norwich. Before going for Rangers, he hadn’t scored in 54 games. He now has four in his last eight, a winner against Aberdeen last week topped with his opener against Celtic.
If Cantwell can find that kind of consistency during the difficult months next season when the league is alive rather than dead in the water, he must have a part to play.
If he’s got his mojo back, that’s good news for Beale as he sets about revamping his squad this summer. This victory means he can do it in peace, or whatever passes for peace in the city when your rival wins everything.
It was a moment of respite. A chance to breathe. Celtic don’t care. Rangers will care a lot.