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Scottish Premiership: Michael Beale full of optimism after Old Firm derby

Celtic remain on track to defend their Scottish Premiership crown after striking late to earn a 2-2 with Rangers at Ibrox.

The second Old Firm derby of the season had no shortage of drama and excitement but the Glasgow rivals couldn't be separated.

League leaders Celtic got off to the perfect start when Daizen Maeda intercepted a loose pass from Alfredo Morelos before sliding home beyond Allan McGregor with just five minutes on the clock.

Celtic dominated possession during the opening 45 minutes but that opening goal proved to be their only effort on target as Rangers offered a threat on the counter.

The hosts went close to equalising when Ryan Kent's strike was tipped onto the post by Joe Hart, while Morelos, clearly eager to atone for his early error, had two big chances to convert but he failed to deliver on both occasions with his head.

Rangers, knowing a Celtic win would widen the gap at the top to 12 points and almost certainly end any hope of forcing their way back into the title conversation, came out with a greater intent in the second half and it took just 100 seconds to find an equaliser through Kent, who curled beautifully into the far corner.

That strike proved to be a momentum shifter and Rangers were awarded the chance to go ahead from the penalty spot just six minutes later.

Fashion Sakala won the spot-kick after beating Josip Juranovic, driving into the box and drawing a challenge from Carl Starfelt.

Captain James Tavernier made no mistake as he smashed home beyond Hart to the delight of the majority inside Ibrox.

Gers had the chance to grab a third late on after Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou made a raft of attacking chances, leaving his side somewhat light at the back.

However, Cameron Carter-Vickers stood firm to block Malik Tillman's shot following a breakaway from Kent.

Celtic have earned a reputation for scoring late this season and that trend continued as Kyogo Furuhashi bagged his first Old Firm goal in the 88th minute to silence Ibrox.

Signs of improvement for Gers

The first Old Firm derby of the campaign saw Celtic run out comfortable 4-0 winners on home soil and Rangers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst was put firmly under the spotlight.

Further points were dropped in a loss at St Johnstone, while they also drew with Hibernian, Livingston and St Mirren.

Van Bronckhorst was replaced by Michael Beale during the mid-season break for the World Cup and the former QPR boss had chalked up four successive wins ahead of Monday's derby.

Rangers' failure to hold out for the win means a title challenge is extremely unlikely. However, Monday's overall performance indicated they are making strides in the right direction.

There was undoubtedly more desire and character shown from Gers, who arguably deserved more than a point when compared to their last meeting with Celtic and Beale is feeling extremely positive for the future.

Beale told Sky Sports: "I saw a lot of good things today, a lot of players who were committed to the cause.

"Second half we were excellent. I thought that if we won it would have been fair, so yeah, we're a little bit disappointed.

"We’ve only been together a few weeks and now we’re at a level to compete with the team we need to compete with.

"We’d like to be two points closer but there are 18 games to go and we’ll just keep going."

Rangers are 1/4 in the Full Time Result market to win their next outing when they travel to 10/1 Dundee United on 8th January, while the draw is priced at 19/4.

Postecoglou keen to focus on positives

Celtic's late equaliser ensured they didn't allow rivals Rangers to swing open the door and close the gap.

The defending champions were far from their best and Postecoglou admitted his side "tightened up" and didn't allow their football to flow.

It's just the second time Celtic have dropped points this campaign, having lost 2-0 at St Mirren on 18th September, and they were on a 12-game winning streak ahead of their trip to Ibrox.

Avoiding defeat was almost more important than picking up the victory and Postecoglou stressed he won't be dwelling on the result.

Postecoglou told Sky Sports: "It was a real proper derby. It was a cracking game. We started really well and then we just lost control.

"It's very easy on a day like this to resign yourself to a failure, but we haven't done that all year or last year and we found a way.

"It's a difficult place to come to. They threw everything at us, they knew how important the game was in the context of the league. For the most part, I thought we handled it OK."

Celtic, available at 1/12 in the Full Time Result market, return to action on 7th January when they host 22/1 Kilmarnock with the draw 9/1.

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