STEVEN Gerrard’s reaction to the final whistle at Parkhead yesterday afternoon was, much like the atmosphere inside the empty arena, far more subdued than it had been when Rangers had defeated Celtic at the same venue at the end of last year.

Gerrard bumped arms respectfully with his opposite number Neil Lennon on the touchline, shook hands with his coaching staff in the technical area and then walked out onto the pitch to congratulate his jubilant players.

There was none of passionate fist pumping or wild-eyed screams of delight into television cameras which he had produced in the wake of the 2-1 victory in the East End of Glasgow back in December.

Yet, the fact the side his charges had triumphed over were missing a raft of key performers had nothing to do with his reserved response to a result which sent the Ibrox club four points clear at the top of the Premiership table.

The Liverpool and England great was quick to both dismiss suggestions that Rangers had overcome weakened rivals and lavish praise on his men for their dominant display. He is simply, like his team, older and wiser now. He was every bit as satisfied with the performance and result.

“Celtic threw everything at us today,” he said. “You talk about people being missing, but we had Kemar Roofe sitting in the house and we couldn’t start Joe Aribo. We have got our own issues ourselves. We have had issues for five or six weeks.

“Celtic are throwing quality players at us all the way through the game – (David) Turnbull, £3.5m, (Patryk) Klimala, £3.5m, (Albian) Ajeti, £5m, their keeper (Vasilis Barkas) is worth £5m. We haven’t played a Celtic team with issues, we have beat a strong Celtic team.

“I don’t think you ever expect it to be straightforward when you come here. We have been relatively quiet during the course of the 90 minutes considering what you normally face here. The players deserve credit. I don’t think we were at our fluent best, but we were really assured and professional and controlled in what we did today.”

Only time will tell whether Rangers finally, after nine long years, have the ability and strength in depth to pip their city rivals to the Scottish title. But yesterday they were certainly superior. This one-sided win was richly deserved.

Lennon was without Nir Bitton, Ryan Christie, Odsonne Edouard and Hatem Elhamed due to Covid-19 and Christopher Jullien and James Forrest because of injury. All six men could conceivably have started. Albian Ajeti, too, wasn’t considered fit enough to kick-off the match.

With Bitton and Jullien unavailable Lennon brought in young Stephen Welsh for one simple reason – it allowed him to stick with the 3-5-2 formation he has favoured in 2020.

It was asking a lot of the 20-year-old defender to, even without any fans in attendance, to come in to such a big game and perform. His last outing in senior football had been way back on February 2.

Yet, it was Kristoffer Ajer and Shane Duffy, not their young team mate, who was at fault for Celtic falling behind in the ninth minute. The former gifted the visitors a free-kick just outside his area with a foul on Ryan Kent and then failed to deal with the dipping delivery from James Tavernier.

Connor Goldson, who Duffy had played onside, met the ball with a glancing header that eluded Barkas and spun into the bottom corner of the net. It was a fine finish. But the ease with which the centre half was allowed to score was startling.

Duffy almost atoned for his lapse six minutes later when he supplied Mohamed Elyounoussi in Rangers penalty box. Goldson failed to deal with it and the forwarded was presented with a gilt-edged chance to level. He attempted to chip Allan McGregor and fired well over.

Rangers could have edged further in front eight minutes into the second-half when Brandon Barker, preferred to Ianis Hagi, sent Kent through. Only a perfectly timed sliding tackle by Ajer kept the home team level.

Their opponents, though, added another after the corner. The ball broke to Glen Kamara wide on the right and he fed Scott Arfield inside him. The midfielder played a one-two with Alfredo Morelos before squaring to Goldson.

The defender had an initial attempt blocked by Duffy, but he made no mistake with the follow-up shot.

Lennon made a raft of replacements in an attempt to haul Celtic back into the match. But his substitutes made little difference. The home side failed to register a single shot on target during the course of the 90 minutes.

The Northern Irishman made no excuses for the reverse. He is, however, keen to see important personnel return. “We have to get our players back fit,” he said. “Hopefully Ryan will be available and we’ll see how Odsonne is. I thought we lacked a bit of experience today and we’re a little naive in some aspects.”