It was crystal-clear from the start that Ally McCoist and the players were not of a mind to accept the distasteful prospect of relinquishing their title at home in a derby. Rangers were clearly better-motivated, hungrier, more determined and – crucially – the better team before the indiscipline of the away side cost them dearly and put the game beyond them.
Rhys McCabe had a significant impact on proceedings, looking comfortable on the ball and displaying an encouraging habit of passing the ball with both feet and an intriguing grasp of the concept of the effect of spin. It was no coincidence that his forced withdrawal led to a far less effective and inspired phase of play from the champions. Indeed, two of Rangers best players were removed from the field and the other notable performer (Lee McCulloch) was forced into midfield and then briefly to cover at the back.
Sone Aluko’s injury robbed us of a man on his very best form and his opener will have brought to mind the sort of goal one scores during a console game against a young chap getting a little too big for their boots and needing to be taught a lesson. It will be worth revisiting time and time again over the coming weeks. Indeed, Sone’s highlight reel from his brief time at the Club is already developing toward future status as a minor YouTube classic.
And what of the other scorers: Andy Little rips a page from the comic books with a first-touch goal and Lee Wallace – who might have scored that second – gets his reward for another great run to slot home the third, placing it comfortably over the line just to make sure. Wallace is a strange player: he fails the sight-test, partly due to the way he runs and the impression he gives of wearing old-fashioned miners’ boots, but his impact on today’s game was decisive.
It would be unfair and unjust to neglect the manager, for Ally’s tactics and the performances he got from those within that deployment, brought their reward and made a few pre-match worriers delighted to swallow their concerns, and eat their words. Ally wears the troubles of recent times on his face and his debut season as manager of The Rangers has been more difficult than anyone could have imagined. He will very likely get another crack at it all next year and for all the justified criticism he has received, he probably deserves it. But he has through these hard times managed the impossible: a figure so incredibly popular as a player and as a man has become even more admired and his status as legend will withstand anything future on-field performances deliver.
What of the referee? Calum Murray broke his duck, with this being the first time he has officiated in a Glasgow derby won by the team in blue. His day was not a perfect one but he seemed to get right the most serious matters – the three on-field red cards and the penalty award to Celtic were all correct. Some with the benefit of multiple replays will find fault elsewhere – it seemed at the time to be remarkable leniency on his part to resist the temptation to caution Samaras and Goian, to say nothing of another player we will get to presently – but we were spared the spectre of a refereeing blunder costing a team the game, and for that we must be thankful.
And a word, too, for the magnificent support shown today by those in attendance; defiance is easy enough to muster at time like these but there was a genuine togetherness and effort on show at Ibrox which was justly rewarded at the end by the players’ saluting the fans for their effort and vice-versa.
The (bits that were) Bad
For much of the early proceedings in the second half the man advantage wasn’t very clear and even for spells with a two-man boost there was a certain lack of attacking intent, with many content simply to keep the ball. A minor grumble, perhaps and it should be emphasised that far greater and far more talented sides than the present Rangers team have in the past failed to properly demonstrate their overwhelming superiority in such circumstances.
To lose one goal against nine-men was bad enough but the concession of a second, with Bocanegra off the field and the defence once more looking a little less organised, was truly horrendous. It was, as Ally claimed “five minutes of madness”, but briefly threatened to take the gloss off a professional and comprehensive win. However, this was merely the footballing equivalent of teams in the NFL scoring garbage time touchdowns and inflating their statistics: it made no impression on the result and will not have altered the conviction felt, one suspects, across all four stands of the ground that Celtic were not good enough.
We must not fail to address the main talking-point of today: the spectacular, fundamental failure of Celtic to rise to the occasion in a big game. Simply put: they bottled it, lost their discipline and were once more found to be lacking when the pressure was applied. Only Fraser Foster can truthfully look in the mirror tonight with some pride in his performance. They will win the SPL one of these weeks – most likely now in April – but the chance of this side, under this management set-up, winning a championship in a tight run-in is still open to question.
The (very) Ugly
And so to the regrettable aspects of today.
It’s often said, correctly, that a manager and his choice as captain, are the public face of a football club. They are the people that others look to for inspiration, for guidance and are the figures those in the outside world see as epitomising a club at a certain point in time.
I’m not sure how Scott Brown was still on the pitch by the time he came to score Celtic’s penalty, put away with no little flair and panache. It seems truly remarkable that referee Murray did not even caution him, especially for his kick at Aluko in the first half, a clear sign from the player’s boots that the red mist had once more descended and he had reverted to the hard-man routine that dulls his play so effectively.
It’s difficult to know what to say about the away manager. Once more disgracing himself and his Club at Ibrox, it’s now incumbent upon the SFA to back their referees and ensure that the next holiday from the dug-out extends to the end of the season, if not beyond.
On a day where all involved were acutely aware – indeed they had been extensively forewarned - that eyes would be upon them and that their behaviour had to be if not impeccable then at least as close in the circumstances as is possible to admirable yet discipline was lost, tempers and festering feelings of paranoia and victimhood seemed to win the day and consume some participants.
We might have expected it from the home side, if the result had gone against them and the problems and setbacks of a diabolical season had been compounded by their greatest rivals rubbing it all in on their home patch, but there was no surrender on display today and it’s now perhaps beyond time that some in the broadcast and written media considered their silence on the antics of those within the game who consistently let down both themselves and their Club. In broader terms it may be worth asking if failure to collect the Scottish cup in May could see the end of the road for some on and off the field at the East End club.
For Rangers it’s a rare bright spot in a season to forget. For Celtic, it’s been two weeks of disappointing sunshine in a row and that ice-cream might be best served in the freezer for a while yet.