Rangers’ endeavours at Tannadice on Sunday may not have automatically appeared to provide a breeding ground for Scottish football’s conspiracy theorists. One statistic generated by the encounter could threaten that, though.
Few considered that the ball striking the arm of Connor Goldson in the area during the Ibrox men’s 2-0 victory over Dundee United merited a penalty – unlike the defender’s hands-up contact in the box against Celtic at Ibrox seven days earlier. The fact neither led to a spot-kick means Rangers have now gone 38 league games – essentially an entire top flight campaign – without conceding a penalty. Moreover, owing to their involvement in the Viaplay League Cup this weekend, a year is guaranteed to pass without it being deemed by officials that any Ibrox player has been guilty of an offence to warrant a spot-kick on the domestic scene. A result of the fact the most recent such incident occurred in the top flight encounter at Pittodrie on January 18 last year, which allowed Lewis Ferguson to convert for Aberdeen in what proved a 1-1 draw.
Pretty remarkably, this follows on from a 44-game run without coughing up a league penalty that Rangers experienced between January 2020 and April 2021. A span sandwiched between Ryan Christie missing one in Celtic’s 2-1 derby defeat at home to their ancient adversaries on December 28, 2019 and Liam Craig netting for a 94th-minute equaliser from the spot to claim St Johnstone a 1-1 draw against Steven Gerrard’s side on April 21, 2021. Essentially then, across only three years, the Ibrox club have enjoyed two sequences avoiding any penalty punishment in the Premiership of a longevity only occasionally witnessed throughout top level football. However dominant a team may prove to be.
Rangers haven’t always even been the pre-eminent force across the period in question, which covers 69 games. Certainly, they were imperious in romping to the title in 2020-21 without the loss of a single game. A campaign in which they only gave up 13 goals. And, when analysing the concession of penalties, the art of disciplined defending must be recognised. There is no doubt that has been a Rangers hallmark but aside from their dominant spells, it is Celtic that have won two titles and are on course for a third. Yet despite that, while in the past three years the Ibrox men have only had four league spot kicks given against them, the figure for Celtic is 13, including five this season. Natural variance doesn’t cover this marked contrast, and most dispassionate observers would acknowledge that the Ibrox club have enjoyed slices of good fortune to fall the favourable side of an inevitable number of contentious decisions.
There is an even more pointed difference when it comes to the concession of penalties by the title rivals in their home environs on top flight duty. Scotland’s powerhouse pair tend to exhibit an overwhelming superiority on such occasions. However, while that is reflected in Rangers last being penalised with a spot-kick in the league domain at Ibrox on September 19, 2019, Celtic were on the wrong end of two dubious penalty calls on their own patch in back-to-back encounters in November alone. It isn’t the case that Rangers don’t know what it is like to have referees point to their spot in more recent times. Across their sorties in the altogether more exacting European domain in the past 10 months, they conceded no fewer than six penalties.