Celtic 2 Rangers 0

McLeish left on the brink by Maloney thunderbolt
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The Independent Football

Certainly, McLeish's sombre mood and flat body language in the post-match press conference suggested he realises his time could soon be up.

Asked how much longer Rangers can afford such poor results before a possible sacking, the manager replied: "We can't afford not to get results."

McLeish insisted, however, that if the decision is left to him, he will fight for his job. "I'm going to take a planned break for a couple of days now and as far as I'm concerned I'm then going to be planning for the game in 10 days' time," he said.

That game is again against Celtic, at Celtic Park, but in the Scottish Premier League, where Rangers trail the leaders by 12 points. There did not seem to be a whole lot of confidence among McLeish's players that he will definitely still be in charge. "Results matter," said Barry Ferguson, the Rangers captain "and we've not been getting the results for him."

Strachan, an old pal of McLeish, was delighted with the win but refused to talk about McLeish's situation. Celtic now face a semi-final on 1 February against Livingston, Motherwell or Dunfermline, who all reached the last four on Tuesday.

When Rangers beat Motherwell in last season's CIS final to secure McLeish's sixth trophy at Ibrox, and then added the SPL title on the final day for seven, few if any fans can have envisaged things going so badly awry this season. But then Strachan's new-look Celtic side were not expected to gel so quickly.

From the start it seemed likely that either Maloney or his equally speedy team-mate, Aiden McGeady, on Celtic's left flank, would be the man to slice Rangers open, and so it proved.

Maloney opened the scoring on 26 minutes. With a feigned jink in the direction of Sotirios Kyrgiakos, he wrong-footed the defender and appeared briefly to consider running the ball into the box. Instead he simply unleashed a stunning 25-yard shot that had the crowd out their seats and gasping even before it billowed the net.

Rangers huffed and puffed, but their passing was poor, they created little and capitalised on nothing. They had one shot on target all night.

When Kyrgiakos was sent off for a second bookable offence with 24 minutes left, Rangers' "challenge" was finished. Celtic made it 2-0 when Shunsuke Nakamura's cross bamboozled keeper Stefan Klos, who was being pressured by Bobo Baldé, and was bundled into his own net.

Celtic (4-1-3-2): Boruc; Telfer, Baldé, McManus, Camara; Lennon; Nakamura, Petrov, McGeady (Varga, 77); Hartson, Maloney. Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Thompson, Virgo, Pearson.

Rangers (4-4-2): Klos; Hutton, Rodriguez (Pierre-Fanfan, 79), Kyrgiakos, Bernard (Lovenkrands, h-t); Namouchi, Ricksen, Ferguson, Murray; Prso, Thompson (Jeffers, 56). Substitutes not used: Waterreus (gk), A Rae.

Referee: K Clark.