It was full of sound and the expected fury but when Glasgow’s business was done it signified nothing that we did not already know. Celtic are a league better than the other half of the firm; Rangers remain in a mess on and off the pitch with no end in sight to either plight.
Celtic won with the ease of the incumbent in a one-party state election, scoring twice in the opening half-hour of a scrappy encounter. They will play Dundee United in the final, the first of a possible domestic treble. It is the New Firm of Dundee United and Aberdeen who are their closest challengers and will be for at least the next few years. Rangers are an awful long way short of recovering their status. This was a match that played out as any between the best team in the land and one battling for promotion from a lower tier should.
It was not, in truth, an occasion to show the Scottish game in a good place, a poor match on a dreadful pitch between two sides who are far short of vintage.
Not that those in attendance care a hoot for what anyone beyond Glasgow thinks. The glee with which Celtic’s support, and their players for that matter, celebrated, and the vigour with which Rangers’ fans bellowed for their cause to the very end (once it was clear the embarrassment of the hiding threatened in the first half would not materialise) demonstrated how much this first meeting in three years mattered. This was the 400th time the two have met and it counted for just as much as the preceding 399.
The stadium was split down the middle but that was the only parity between these two grand old clubs. Those in green lapped it up, some waving bundles of cash in the direction of those in blue.
For Rangers fans there was little to cheer. They could be forgiven for heading home and drawing down the blinds; forgiven for seeking out darkened rooms for a few days, weeks or even months. Although given the path Rangers are on, their club may not exist by the time they re-emerge.
For Rangers it is back to the desperate mess of day-to-day existence, back to the bread and butter – if butter is not off the menu at Ibrox as an expensive luxury – of chasing distant Hearts in the Championship and trying just to survive off the field. Rangers’ current on-field status is better demonstrated by one victory in four attempts against Alloa than one defeat by Celtic.
How big is the gulf? “You can decide that,” responded Kenny McDowall, Rangers caretaker manager, who like his predecessor Ally McCoist, is serving his notice because he doesn’t want the job either (this is a club where the extraordinary has become ordinary off the field). “I thought we competed well. But it’s gone and we have to move on.”
For Ronny Deila, it was a first taste of the fixture and he revelled in it, joining his players as they hailed their supporters. “We have to enjoy the moment,” he said. The downside to Deila’s day was the pitch. The Norwegian was scathing about the shoddy playing surface. He widened it to Scottish pitches in general – “you need pitches to play football on,” he said. Otherwise, he suggested, football here will always be played in the air and where is that going to get you in the Champions League or at international level?
It took Celtic 10 minutes to settle and as soon as they did they scored. Stefan Johnansen, in space, crossed from the right and Leigh Griffiths headed firmly home. Easy, too easy. Celtic, marshalled by a ferocious performance from their outstanding captain Scott Brown, were dominant. In goal Craig Gordon might as well have brought along the Sunday papers. Rangers did not manage an attempt on his goal. They could not even muster a decent cross until nearly an hour gone when Kenny Miller’s ball forced Gordon to fold up the travel section and gather the ball.
Miller, playing this fixture for a 17th time, spent much of the opening period first cajoling and then imploring his team-mates to give him support. McDowall sent on Jon Daly to partner Miller after the interval and for the second period Rangers at least went down fighting. But there is nobody in the Scottish game who can outfight Brown. It was his tackle that won the ball for Kris Commons to score Celtic’s second on the half hour, Commons arrowing a shot home from the edge of the area.
Brown kicked everything that moved from start to finish, sometimes even the ball. He was booked in the third minute of time added on, the game won, for a hefty challenge on Ian Black. It sparked a mass confrontation between the two teams as the Rangers players reacted furiously. It was the fury of a well-beaten team raging against reality.Reuse content