Jelavic’s extra-time goal seals emotional Cup win for Rangers
Celtic 1 Rangers 2
Monday 21 March 2011
To Rangers, this triumph must have felt like an act of redemption. They had to overcome the terrible self-doubt left by Celtic's recent dominance of Old Firm fixtures, then as a grim fatigue began to diminish them at Hampden, they had to reach for the last of their heart, however painful it was. In extra-time, and with his hamstrings cramping, Nikica Jelavic still found the dredges of his spirit were enough to deliver the decisive strike.
And if Walter Smith seemed a little choked by emotion afterwards, when words stuck momentarily in this throat, then maybe it was because this represented more than his last visit to the national stadium, or his 20th trophy.
He steps aside as Rangers manager at the end of the season, to be succeeded by his assistant Ally McCoist, but he frets about the state of the job he is passing on: Rangers, financially weakened and with a small squad; Celtic purposeful and growing in accomplishment.
His counterpart, Neil Lennon, had to sit in the stand, as part of a four-match ban, and every time his face appeared on the stadium's big screens, it provoked a clash of responses from the two sets of fans. His side had begun to dominate this fixture, but that shifting balance of power seemed, in the midst of the Rangers' players gleeful celebrations, to scatter like nothing more than hot air. Smith's side were deserved winners of the Co-operative Insurance Cup, and the trophy surely felt light, joyful even, in his hands when he lifted it at the end.
The winning goal was enabled by the sharp-wittedness of Vladimir Weiss, who took a quick free-kick to release the Croatian forward. He barrelled beyond Charlie Mulgrew and Emilio Izaguirre – as he had done throughout a bruising afternoon – took a touch then steered a shot past Fraser Forster, the Celtic goalkeeper. The ball bounced off the inside of the left post, ran along the line, then veered in at the last. So much gathered in that wait – expectation, anxiety – that it felt like a prolonged agony.
"None of the boys who have been here for a number of years need to prove anything," Smith said. "They have given everything and played exceptionally well. The motivation has to come from within. It was a terrific game and I thought we edged it."
Rangers took the lead when Steven Davis gathered the ball from Mulgrew's clearing header and struck a low left-foot shot that bounced off the post and in.
The game suddenly became fraught, and players on both sides motioned for their team-mates to calm down. Once some kind of order was restored, Celtic equalised; Izaguirre's deflected cross was enough to throw David Weir off balance, and from Georgios Samaras's flick-on, Joe Ledley stooped to score with a header.
Rangers seemed to be running out of strength, but extra-time acted like an extra motivation. In the second period, as Celtic chased the game, Izaguirre was sent off for body-checking Weiss, and he departed with the last of his side's hopes of recovering.
So it was left to Smith to dwell in the moment, and for Rangers to savour their reclamation of a vital, winning spirit.
Celtic (4-4-2): Forster; Wilson, Rogne (Loovens, 73), Mulgrew, Izaguirre; Brown (Ki, 65), Kayal, Ledley, Commons (McCourt, 103); Samaras, Hooper. Substitutes not used Zaluska (gk), Stokes.
Rangers (4-5-1): Alexander; Whittaker, Bougherra (Hutton, 82), Weir, Papac; Lafferty (Weiss 90), Davis, Edu, Wylde; Jelavic (Diouf, 116), Naismith. Substitutes not used McGregor (gk), Healy.
Referee C Thomson (Paisley).
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