IT was a 50-50 ball in the middle of the park in only the second minute of the game with, on the face of it, not a great deal riding on who came out on top.

Yet, after Andy Halliday, the Rangers left back, had got the better of Olivier Ntcham, the Celtic midfielder, in the early challenge he let out a huge roar to the great delight of the home supporters in the packed Ibrox stands.

The incident highlighted that Steven Gerrard’s men had - to borrow the phrase made famous by Jock Wallace, one of his predecessors as manager, back in the 1970s - the battle fever on and very much set the tone for what was to follow.

The home team proceeded to bludgeon their opponents, unbeaten in the Glasgow derby in 12 games and two-and-a-half years, and ran out richly-deserved winners at the end of 90 one-sided minutes.

They dominated possession, refused to give the visitors a foothold in the match, attacked with creativity and pace and carved out a glut of scoring chances. Only the exceptional play of Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon prevented them from triumphing by a far more emphatic scoreline. It was 1-0 going on 3-0 or 4-0.

Halliday, a lifelong Rangers fan, became a figure of fun for Celtic supporters last season after some unfortunate outings in this fixture, but he was the one who was smiling when the final whistle blew yesterday.

His wholehearted approach was pivotal to the display of his team. His will to win clearly rubbed off on those around about him. His hunger and desire were matched by every man who donned a light blue jersey. But he was a worthy recipient of the Man of the Match award.

The 27-year-old’s individual display was remarkable considering that left back isn’t his preferred position. But the versatile player justified his manager’s decision to select him ahead of both Jon Flanagan and Lee Wallace in the absence of the injured Borna Barisic and then some. He excelled both defensively and in attack.

Tactics and formations are often irrelevant on such occasions and so it proved in this encounter. Ultimately, the outcome of the match boiled down to who wanted it most. That was very much Rangers.

Scott Brown, so often a dominant figure in these games in recent years, was harried relentlessly by Scott Arfield, Ryan Jack and Ross McCrorie in midfield from start to finish. The Rangers fans revelled in the Celtic captain’s inability to drag his side back into the match and goaded him at every available opportunity.

Not that Brown received much assistance from those around about him. Ntcham was an ineffectual presence in midfield after coming off second best in the early exchange with Halliday. An opportunity fell to him with five minutes remaining and he got a shot from the edge of the Rangers penalty box on target.

But who was there to block it? It could only be Halliday. He bravely threw his body in the way of the attempt. The Glasgow boy epitomised the fight exhibited by Rangers throughout.

Much had been made of the fact that Celtic would only have 750 fans in attendance instead of their usual 7000 following the controversial decision by the Rangers board to slash their ticket allocation back in May.

However, would it really have made much difference to the outcome of the game if the Broomloan Road Stand had, as has traditionally been the case, packed with away supporters? They had little, if anything, to shout about.

The fact that Kieran Tierney failed to recover sufficiently from the hip injury that has sidelined him for the last two weeks to take his place in the starting line-up definitely, even though Callum McGregor performed well at left back, hindered Celtic.

Mikael Lustig and Filip Benkovic limping off injured in the first-half also prevented Rodgers from bringing Tierney on, as had been his intention, as the game progressed. Not having Tom Rogic, who is away with Australia at the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, available was keenly felt too.

This was a collective off day from Celtic. They can and will perform far better going forward when they get key players back. They remain top on goal difference, have a game in hand to play and will strengthen with new players in the transfer window. Timothy Weah looks like being the first of a few new acquisitions.

Nevertheless, this was a hugely encouraging performance and important result for both Gerrard and Rangers. If they can match this level of performance in the second-half of the campaign and add a few new faces themselves they can challenge strongly for the Scottish title in the second half of the 2018/19 campaign.

That, of course, is a big if. The Ibrox club have had a tendency to drop points needlessly this term. But they will certainly travel down to Ayrshire to take on Kilmarnock in their next Ladbrokes Premiership match at Rugby Park on Wednesday, January 23, with renewed belief they can end their wait for major silverware after this fine win.