Caitlin Hayes scored a 99th-minute equaliser for Celtic to deny defending champions and title rivals Rangers a vital victory in the Scottish Women’s Premier League as tensions spilled over after the full-time whistle.
In the first SWPL game to be shown live on Sky Sports, a first-half goal from Brogan Hay (36) looked set to be the difference, but Hayes’ strike in the ninth minute of stoppage time salvaged a point for Fran Alonso’s side.
But as Alonso celebrated at full-time, Rangers assistant coach Craig McPherson appeared to aim a headbutt at the Celtic head coach.
“Somebody just pushed me from behind,” Alonso told Sky Sports when he was shown the incident. “I didn’t speak to him for the whole game but he was obviously disappointed to concede in the last minute. I totally get it.
“I got called ‘a little rat’ and I don’t know why.”
Rangers head coach Malky Thomson told Sky Sports the club will deal with the incident.
“Without seeing it, I won’t comment on it,” he said. “If that’s the case there will be an investigation.”
The result means leaders Glasgow City, who beat Hibernian 2-0 on Saturday, end the first round of fixtures following the SWPL split eight points clear of Celtic in second and nine ahead of Rangers in third.
How Celtic denied Rangers crucial win
After Glasgow City moved nine points clear at the top of the table following their 2-0 win at Hibernian on Saturday, Celtic and Rangers both knew anything other than a victory in the third Old Firm clash of the season would be a significant blow to their title chances.
While the first meeting between the two rivals ended 0-0 in November, Celtic beat Rangers 3-0 last month but it was Malky Thomson’s side who dominated the opening stages of Monday’s game.
Rangers made a confident start but were fortunate not to fall behind in the 14th minute when goalkeeper Jenna Fife’s clearance was charged down by Natasha Flint, only for the ball to rebound behind for a goal-kick.
Celtic rarely threatened in the first half but wanted a penalty seven minutes later when Lisa Martinez got the wrong side of Caitlin Hayes from a corner and appeared to pull her opponent to the ground. However, referee Steven MacDonald waved away the appeals and with no VAR in operation, the game remained goalless.
Despite that incident, it was Rangers who controlled the majority of the contest. Captain Kathryn Hill saw two efforts routinely saved by Pamela Tajonar before the hosts deservedly took the lead in the 36th minute, albeit in fortunate circumstances.
Celtic skipper Kelly Clark tried to cut out Emma Watson’s low cross from the left, but instead she took the ball away from Tajonar who had rushed off her line to collect, leaving Brogan Hay with a simple tap-in to put her side in front at half-time.
Celtic improved after the break but were unable to create any clear-cut chances. Flint fired well over just before the hour mark while Hayes saw her header easily collected by Fife seven minutes before full-time.
American forward Kit Loferski, whose signing was announced on the day of the game, was introduced in the 70th minute but it wasn’t until the final seconds that the visitors earned what could now turn out to be a valuable point.
A hopeful ball forward from the back caused Rangers’ defence problems and as Fife rushed out to clear the ball, it rebounded off Hayes, allowing the Celtic defender to tap into an empty goal to start jubilant celebrations.
With nine games remaining following the SWPL split, both Rangers and Celtic will still believe they can chase down unbeaten leaders Glasgow City, but Monday’s result undoubtedly favours the 15-time champions.
Elsewhere in the SWPL
Leaders Glasgow City remain top after their 2-0 win at Hibernian on Saturday, while Hearts beat Partick Thistle 1-0 in the other top-six fixture.
In the bottom half, Motherwell won 4-1 against rivals Hamilton Academical, Spartans beat Dundee United 1-0 and Aberdeen overcame rock-bottom Glasgow 3-1.
Alonso: ‘Almost feels like a win’
Celtic head coach Fran Alonso was delighted with the victory:
“We wanted the three points but we knew we were facing a top, top side.
“At the end we put a centre-back up front and we never gave up. To score like that, it almost feels like a win.
“I’m very, very proud of the guys. I felt like it was one half per team so it’s a fair result.
“We are definitely in a title fight. We have to play Glasgow City twice and Rangers, obviously every game will be difficult.
“The only thing we lost today is it isn’t in our hands anymore, we depend on Rangers taking points from Glasgow City now as well.”
Thomson: ‘It leaves us batting for second’
Malky Thomson told Sky Sports their title bid could be over:
“I think it was a great spectacle for the fans watching it and it had everything. A bit of drama, two goals.
“I’m gutted but we’re Rangers, we’ll need to pick ourselves up and move on.
“It’s really difficult, especially considering the first half when we were excellent.
“We had a real good chance to make it 2-0 and put the game out of reach. It was an entertaining game, obviously it leaves us battling for second place now, but maybe there will be some more thrills and spills.
“I’m a bit gutted, but we’ll pick ourselves up and move on.”
Rangers Women host Hibernian in their next SWPL match on April 2, with kick-off at 4.10pm. Celtic play Partick Thistle at home on the same day, with the earlier kick-off time of 3pm.