Rangers vs. Celtic. From a footballing standpoint, there's not another truly meaningful matchup in Scotland. From a historical standpoint, there might not be another matchup that means as much as the Old Firm derby.
This season, the derby doesn't mean so much on the footballing side. Celtic came to Ibrox leading the Scottish Premier League by a whopping 21 points over second-place Rangers.
Celtic's championship is a matter of if rather than when. Sunday's clash was merely a question of whether Neil Lennon's side could clinch the league on the home pitch of their most bitter rivals. Despite their off-field troubles this season, Rangers had no intention of letting that happen.
Great Start for the Home Team
Rangers came out absolutely flying. Celtic couldn't get a foot into the game for the first 10 minutes.
The period of dominance from the home side culminated when Sone Aluko picked the ball up just inside Celtic's half. A nutmeg set him free through the middle.
Then a sharp cut back behind a pair of recovering defenders gave him space inside the area. His near-post shot beat Celtic keeper Fraser Forster, and the home fans threatened to rock the stadium to its foundations.
Celtic Sees Red
The visitors immediately responded by creating a pair of enticing chances. Forward Georgios Samaras carried the ball 75 yards on his own before dancing around two Ranger defenders in the area to get his shot away.
Ranger keeper Allan McGregor made the save but watched the rebound fall to Samaras' strike partner Anthony Stokes just in front of goal. But Stokes drove his volley into the ground and saw it bounce harmlessly over the crossbar.
Just a minute later in the 15th, Stokes brought a lofted pass down on his chest inside the area and volleyed onto goal. McGregor came up massive once again, turning the shot away on a full stretch to his right side.
The match was really rounding into a high gear when everything changed for the league leaders. Twenty-eight minutes in, Aluko played Ranger defender Lee Wallace in down the left side.
Celtic's Du-Ri Cha was hopelessly lost on the wrong side of the Rangers man as he bore down on the through ball. Cha brought Wallace down just outside the area and the referee was given little choice but to brandish red.
Another Miserable Hour for Celtic
The match got to halftime still 1-0. But things only got worse for Celtic as the second half began. Lennon was barred from the sidelines at the half for arguing Cha's sending off and for a confrontation with referees in the tunnel.
Matters got considerably worse a mere 12 minutes later. A reckless two-footed challenge from Victor Wanyama resulted in Celtic being reduced to nine men as the referee produced red once again.
The next 30 minutes were an exercise in damage control for Celtic. But with such reduced numbers, it was really only a matter of time before Rangers extended the lead.
In the 72nd minute, Andrew Little came on for Rangers' goalscorer Aluko. Little ran on the pitch, ran toward the back post and found himself following up a rebound to push his side two goals ahead.
Just five minutes later, Lee Wallace put in a good tackle at midfield to pop the ball loose to Steven Davis. The Rangers midfielder pushed a 3-on-2 counter as Wallace busted a lung getting down the left side. Davis rewarded his teammate's endeavor with a nicely weighted ball that Wallace smashed home on the run.
3-0 Rangers. But if you stopped watching at this point, you missed out.
For Fans of the Hard-Fought Defeat
The match reached the 86th minute at 3-0. Rangers were cruising, up by three goals and two men. Fans could have been forgiven for leaving early.
But for everyone who enjoyed Arsenal's glorious almost comeback against Milan in the Champions League, the next few minutes were for you.
The score and the numbers got a little closer in the 87th when Samaras brought a ball down on his chest at the edge of the Rangers area and drove to goal. Carlos Bocanegra desperately dove in from behind, but got none of the ball.
Referee Calum Murray's red card got yet another encore as he awarded the penalty and sent Bocanegra to the showers. Scott Brown stepped up and converted the penalty.
Two minutes into added time and Celtic struck again. A needless foul on the left side by Rangers defender Steven Whittaker provided the opportunity. The resulting free kick dropped in at the far post where Celtic's Thomas Rogne rose to meet it and send the traveling supporters into a bout of delirious, if short-lived, optimism.
But just as Arsenal still got bounced from Europe, Celtic still left Ibrox just a bit short of the miracle comeback. Now a mere 18 points ahead of Rangers in the league, Celtic will have to clinch their first championship in four years during a much less significant matchup. I doubt their supporters will mind too much.
Five goals, three red cards and a furious almost comeback. Just another chapter in the long, long history of the Old Firm.