GLASGOW, May 4 – Celtic recorded their first victory against Rangers of the season in the campaign's final Old Firm derby after emerging from a fiercely contested match with a 2-1 win here on Tuesday.First-half goals from Lee Naylor and Marc-Antoine Fortune either side of Kenny Miller’s 21st of the season made it seven wins in a row in the league and a victory for Neil Lennon in his Old Firm managerial debut.
The champions had plenty of chances to even the score in the second half with Miller seeing an effort crash off the post before Lee McCulloch picked up a second yellow card in the final minute of a match in which both sides had to replace their goalkeepers through injury.
Rangers coach Walter Smith was disappointed not to get back on level terms.
"I don’t like losing but in the first half of the game, Celtic were the brighter side," he said.
"In the second half we played far better and created more opportunities and, strangely enough, after getting one in the first when we didn’t do well we didn’t manage to add to our scoreline."
Celtic caretaker boss Lennon said it was a hugely satisfying win.
"We got three points, big performances from a lot of players and beat Rangers for the first time in a while," he said.
"That was their cup final against a very good and very dangerous Rangers team and they’ve won the game so I can’t ask any more than that."
Despite there being nothing but pride to play for the game was played at a frantic pace and produced a moment of drama within three minutes when Gers keeper Allan McGregor was stretchered off with a twisted knee.
After play was held up for three minutes he was replaced by Neil Alexander and the substitute keeper’s second touch after taking a goal-kick saw him picking the ball out the net in the eighth minute.
Naylor drilled a low 25-yard free-kick through the Rangers wall and it took a slight deflection off David Weir on its way into the bottom-right corner with Alexander rooted to the spot.
Rangers looked to hit back immediately and Miller’s low cross from the left was turned inches wide by Kyle Lafferty from close range.
Tempers began to boil over mid-way through the half when Kevin Thomson picked up a yellow card before he was joined in the book by Gers team-mate McCulloch.
Artur Boruc dived at the feet of Miller to deny the striker a chance in the 43rd minute but the Scotland international got on the scoresheet seconds later.
Steven Whittaker whipped in a great ball from the right and the former Hoops player leaped above Mark Wilson to head his third goal against Celtic this season.
However Rangers held their lead for less than two minutes after a mistake from Alexander.
Naylor raced down the left, found Fortune with a curling cross and his header somehow squirmed under the legs of the keeper on the line.
Rangers came out fired up after the break and American midfielder Maurice Edu came close to flicking Steven Davis’s free-kick beyond Boruc.
Miller was next to threaten after he spun his marker but his shot was deflected behind for a corner.
Celtic goalkeeper Boruc succumbed to injury in the 54th minute and was replaced by his fellow Polish international Lukasz Zaluska.
The Celtic defence continued to look vulnerable and Miller twice came close to getting Rangers on level terms.
The striker was inches away from connecting with Whittaker’s cross before he volleyed just wide after a great one-two with Edu.
Celtic captain Scott Brown headed Naylor’s corner over the bar, while at the other end, Zaluska made a finger-tip save to keep out a Davis drive.
The champions looked determined to get an equaliser and Miller thought he had claimed it when he lashed a fierce volley past Zaluska but it crashed off the post with six minutes left.
McCulloch saw red in the final minute for a late lunge on Aiden McGeady after Whittaker had lost possession on the half-way line, with Miller and Celtic’s Darren O’Dea also booked in the resulting melee.