CELTIC will have to wait a little longer to be crowned Scottish champions this season after being held to a 1-1 draw by Rangers at Parkhead today in the final Old Firm derby of the season.

Jota put Ange Postecoglou’s side in front in the first-half and it looked as if they were heading for a triumph that would send them nine points clear at the top of the cinch Premiership table with three games remaining.

However, Fashion Sakala scored an equaliser for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side and the Ibrox club were unfortunate they didn’t take the lead and win thereafter as they pushed hard for another in the closing stages.

Sakala was denied by the post and Joe Hart saved brilliantly from Scott Arfield is the frantic closing stages of a fiercely-contested league game.

Celtic remain six points clear and will win the league next weekend if they can beat Hearts at home on Saturday and Rangers fail to overcome Dundee United at Ibrox the following day.

But a triumph over the third-placed team in the division next weekend will effectively make it impossible for their city rivals to overtake them as they have a vastly superior goal difference. 

Postecoglou named the same starting line-up that had taken to the field in the league encounter with Ross County in Dingwall seven days ago – and that meant Kyogo Furuhashi gopt the nod ahead of Giorgos Giakoumakis up front.

There were a number of Rangers fans who were, despite their team still having a slim chance of retaining the Scottish title, keen to see Van Bronckhorst rest players ahead of second leg of the Europa League semi-final against RB Leipzig in Govan on Thursday night.

Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara and Scott Wright, who had all started in Germany on Thursday evening, were left on the bench and their places were taken by Steven Davis, Arfield and Sakala respectively. The visitors started with a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Rangers had to end their rivals 26 game unbeaten domestic run at home – they last lost at Parkhead to Scottish opponents way back on January 30 last year when St Mirren won 2-1 in the league - to keep alive their slim hopes of lifting the league trophy.

Postecoglou, whose men had romped to an emphatic 3-0 triumph over their age-old adversaries in the East End of Glasgow back in February, had never suffered a home league defeat in the famous old stadium too.

James Tavernier and his team mates, who had come from behind to win the Scottish Cup semi-final 2-1 after extra-time at Hampden last month, started strongly and should have taken the lead in the 13th minute.

Ryan Kent met a Tavernier delivery from the right with a first-time volley in the opposition area. However, the winger’s attempt was well wide of the left post.

It was not a day for Rangers to be passing up opportunities and they paid the price for their lack of ruthlessness in the final third eight minutes later when Celtic scored with their first meaningful attack of the game.

Greg Taylor fed Daizen Maeda on the edge of the Rangers penalty box and his team mate turned and ghosted past Connor Goldson before squaring to Jota. The wide man got himself ahead of Borna Barisic at the back post and side-footed beyond Allan McGregor.

It was a well-worked move and an exquisite finish. Jota, who had not been his usual box of tricks in the derby encounter a fortnight earlier, enjoyed his first goal in the world-famous fixture enormously. He kicked a stray beach ball high into the stand in delight.

The Benfica loanee’s strike raised the roof inside the stadium and visibly lifted his side. He went close to doubling Celtic’s lead in the 32nd minute when he got on the end of a Reo Hatate cross. His diving header, though, sailed over the crossbar.

The industrious Maeda went close to netting shortly before half-time after being supplied by Jota. But Postecoglou would have been a happy man at half-time. His team were in complete control and their opponents were struggling to lay a glove on them.

The team which had scored first had lost the previous two Old Firm games. Could Rangers stage another spirited fightback? Goldson fired over and Sakala headed wide at a Tavernier corners early in the second-half. But Celtic responded and Maeda fired wide when he just had McGregor to beat following some patient built-up play.

Poastecoglou made a triple substitution after an hour. Giakoumakis came on for Furuhashi, Nir Bitton took over from Hatate and Tom Rogic replaced O’Riley. His opposite number Van Bronckhorst immediately removed Davis and Joe Aribo and put on Jack and Wright.

Celtic retained the ball for long spells without creating any clear cut opportunities. But the home support were enjoying the swagger their heroes were displaying and it looked only a matter of time before they forged further in front.

It was a shock when Rangers drew level in the 67th minute. Sakala showed great composure to slot beyond Hart after good work from Arfield, Wright and Kent. All of a sudden, the top flight leaders had a game on their hands. Liel Abada replaced Abada with 12 minutes remaining and the Israeli injected some energy into Celtic’s play going forward. But Rangers nearly took the lead with six minutes remaining after Arfield got on the end of a Wright cut back. Only a brilliant reaction save from Hart denied the midfielder. The keeper also claimed a follow-up attempt from Jack.

But it was the woodwork which kept the former England internationalist’s side level in the 85th minute after he had been sent clear. His shot beat Hart but struck the inside of the right post.

Amad Diallo came on Arfield and picked up a booking from referee John Beaton within seconds for bringing down Abada as he raced through on the Rangers goal. Jota shelled the free-kick high into the stands and it finished 1-1.