Tag Archives: Celtic

Goals That Changed History – Ralph Milne

19 Dec

Celtic Park 20 April 1983: Celtic’s clash with Dundee United would go a long way to determining who would win the Scottish Premier Division title.  Going into the match the home side were in the driving seat and another two points would make them strong favourites to clinch a third successive league title.

This was however, by no means a two-horse race.  Also in contention were Aberdeen, who would end the season by winning the European Cup Winners Cup in Gothenburg.  What would the SPL give now to have three evenly matched sides challenging for the league title?

Given what was at stake, it’s hardly surprising that the match was such a highly charged affair with five goals, a red card and an outcome that proved crucial in deciding the ultimate destination of the league championship trophy.

There was also no shortage of quality on display, which is hardly surprising when considering some of the players in the  starting line-ups: with Paul McStay, Charlie Nicholas, Davie Provan, Richard Gough, Paul Sturrock and Eamonn Bannon involved, brains were always likely to win over brawn.

Early pressure from United paid off when Paul Hegarty scored following an error from Roy Aitken.  However, the sides went in level after Nicholas equalised from the penalty spot his 47th goal of the season.

Just 7 minutes after the restart, the visitors regained control.  After Murdo McLeod pulled back Davie Dodds, Bannon made it 2-1 from the resulting spot-kick.  However, United’s hopes of holding onto their lead suffered a massive blow when Richard Gough received a second yellow card following an alteration with Provan.

The extra man advantage looked to be working in Celtic’s favour when Tommy Burns levelled the contest with just over a quarter on an hour to go.  However, the away side were not to be denied.

With 6 minutes left Bannon hooked a cross in from the right.  It was controlled by Ralph Milne – on his chest – before the midfielder unleashed a volley from around twenty-five yards out.  Pat Bonner in the Celtic goal was powerless as the ball dropped under the crossbar and sealed a memorable win for the visitors.

The win kept United in contention for the title but Celtic were still were top of the table.  That all changed the following week as United overcame Kilmarnock 4-0, Celtic lost by a single goal at Aberdeen.

Despite never having won the championship in their history, United did not show any sign of nerves during the run-in, rather they seemed to thrive on being the new league leaders.  Comfortable victories over Morton and Motherwell meant that another win on the final day, against local rivals Dundee, would clinch the title.

Another stunning goal from Milne, this time a chip from just outside the opposition box, helped United to a 2-1 win and they were confirmed as worthy champions, finishing a point ahead of Celtic and Aberdeen.  Prior to manager Jim McLean’s appointment, the club had never won a domestic trophy but the championship added to the two League Cups he had delivered in 1979 and 1980.

In domestic terms, United failed to build on that success with the title never having returned to Tannadice since.  However, when it came to European competition, they proved to be formidable opposition in the years that followed.

The season after winning the league, United reached the semi-final of the European Cup, only falling to Roma in circumstances which have later been shown to be dubious, to say the least.  Had they managed to reach the final, United would have been underdogs against eventual winners Liverpool, but they would have been more than capable of causing an upset.

Three years later, United’s UEFA Cup run saw them memorably defeat Barcelona home and away before eventually losing in the final to IFK Gothenburg.

As for Ralph Milne, he left Tannadice in 1987 and following spells with Charlton Athletic and Bristol City, he joined Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.  He failed to make his mark at Old Trafford and fans south of the border may not remember Milne with any great fondness.  However, anyone in Scotland who seen him play will remember a gifted midfield player who contributed to one of the most significant league title wins in the history of the Scottish game.

 

Celtic’s Prince of Goalkeepers

4 Sep

My recent piece for In Bed With Maradona on John Thomson, whose image will be the header picture on the blog for the month of September.

In early September, a theatre in Glasgow will host a production which focuses on the life of a former footballer who most of the audience will never have seen play.

Their knowledge of John Thomson will have been gleaned from the occasional grainy piece of newsreel, anecdotes passed down through the generations, and media articles – they all tell the tale of a young man whose life was tragically cut short due to his bravery on the football field.

Thomson was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife in 1909, before moving with his family to the mining village of Cardenden.  Like most young men of his age, Thompson was expected upon leaving school to work in the local mine.  Aged just 14, he joined his father at the Lady Josephine colliery in nearby Bowhill, where as an oncost worker he spent his days some 300 yards underground, unclipping the chain clips of wagons which carried coal.

However, Thomson’s aptitude for football – more specifically, goalkeeping – set him apart from most of his contemporaries.  Despite being only 5ft 9, his early performances meant he was something of a sensation in the east of Scotland.  After a short spell with local team Bowhill Rovers he joined junior side Wellesley Rovers with local newspaper the Fife Free Press stating that the club had: “unearthed a champion goalkeeper.”

There have been various suggestions as to how Celtic became aware of Thomson.  According to the club’s manager at the time, the legendary Willie Maley, he was advised of a promising young keeper by a friend who lived in Fife.  Regardless of the circumstances, Celtic liked what they saw and paid a fee of £10 to take Thomson to Glasgow.

It took around six months for him to be given his chance in the first-team, but after his debut in a win against Dundee, Thomson never looked back.  He quickly established himself as an automatic choice and the honours soon followed.  Celtic lifted the Scottish Cup in 1927 and 1931 and Thomson was also called up by his country, making four appearances for the national side.

As a keeper he had it all.  His grace and agility were matched by his bravery, as he regularly threw his head and body into places were some players in the modern era would be reluctant to place their feet.  With regular shoulder-charges (and a bit more) from opposing players, goalkeeping in the late 1920’s and early 30’s was not for the faint hearted.

There was no requirement however, for Thomson to be reminded of the dangers of his occupation.  In 1930, a match against Airdrie left the keeper with a broken jaw, fractured ribs, damage to his collarbone and two teeth missing.  Thomson’s mother Jean was so concerned by his injuries that she urged him to quit the game, stating that she’d had a premonition that her son would be killed playing football.  Nearly 18 months later, Mrs Thomson’s vision would become a horrible reality.

On 5th September 1931 Celtic travelled across Glasgow to Ibrox stadium for a league encounter with their oldest rivals.  The match was goalless early in the second-half when Rangers centre-forward Sam English ran onto a through ball from team-mate Jimmy Fleming and bore down on the Celtic goal.  Thomson, as expected, was off his line at the first sign of danger.  When asked previously what went through his mind when he faced such situations, Thomson replied that his only thought was keeping his eye on the ball and going for it.  It was no surprise therefore when he threw himself head-first at the feet of the onrushing English.

Thomson’s head collided with the knee of the opposing player.  He lay motionless on the turf and very quickly, many witnesses both on the field and in the crowd, realised that this was no minor injury.

It was reported that a single female scream was heard from the main stand at Ibrox.  That was said to be Margaret Finlay, Thomson’s fiancée who had attended the match with his brother Jim.

Thomson was removed from the field by stretcher and taken to Glasgow Victoria Infirmary, on the south-side of the city.  He had suffered a lacerated wound over the right parietal bones, resulting in a depression of the skull.  An operation was carried out to try and alleviate the pressure caused by the swelling in the brain.  It proved unsuccessful and John Thomson died at 9.25pm that evening.  He was 22 years old.

Glasgow was united in grief, Scotland a nation in mourning.  Thousands gathered at Glasgow’s Queen Street railway station to see off trains taking fans to Fife for the funeral.  Many others who were unable to afford the fare instead walked the 55 miles to Cardenden.

It’s estimated that around 30,000 people were in attendance as Thomson was buried.  Despite the traditional religious divide that exists with Scotland’s two largest clubs, Thomson was not a Roman Catholic.  Instead he was a member of the Church of Christ, a small Christian sect whose members conducted services themselves and took charge of events as ‘The Prince of Goalkeepers’ was laid to rest.

Amongst the tributes paid to Thomson, Maley said of his goalkeeper: “Never was there a keeper who caught and held the fastest shots with such grace and ease.”

The journalist John Arlott meanwhile, described Thomson as: “A great player, who came to the game as a boy and left it still a boy; he had no predecessor, no successor.  He was unique.”

It would be remiss not to note the impact that the events of that tragic incident had on the other party involved.  Sam English was born just a few months before Thomson and after playing junior football with Yoker Athletic, had earned his big move to Ibrox.  An official enquiry confirmed what most observers already knew – that English was an honest player who made a genuine attempt to win a ’50-50’ challenge with a goalkeeper.  There was no malice whatsoever.  Thomson’s family agreed, making it clear that they did not hold English in any way responsible for the keeper’s death.

Sadly, not everyone shared that point of view.  Opposing fans – from various clubs, not only Celtic – never allowed the striker to forget his involvement in Thomson’s death and he was mercilessly barracked wherever he played.  Even after leaving Ibrox and playing for Liverpool, Queen of the South and Hartlepool United, the player’s ‘reputation’ seemed to precede him.

English retired from the game in 1938 aged just 28.  He described the part of his career which followed that day at Ibrox as “seven years of joyless sport.”

Sam English died in 1967, at the age of 58.

Over the years there have been various efforts to ensure that Thomson’s name lives on.  In 2008 a campaign backed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown led to Thomson being inducted into Scottish football’s Hall of Fame despite failing to meet the normal criteria of 50 international appearances.

In 1983 the John Thomson Memorial Committee was formed, with the aim of promoting Thomson’s memory in his local area.  Their activities include an annual football tournament (bearing Thomson’s name), which is contested by local primary school children.  This year will also see the JTMC, along with Celtic Graves Society, organise a pilgrimage from Celtic Park to Cardenden, following the route of those who walked to Thomson’s funeral in 1931.  They will reach their destination on 4th September.

The following day sees the ‘The Prince – The Johnny Thomson Story’ begin at Glasgow’s Kings Theatre.  Its opening coincides with the 80th anniversary of Thomson’s passing, and a potential audience of thousands are set to attend over an eight-show run.

The fact that so many people are prepared to attend or participate in such events, gives credence to the words which adorn Thomson’s headstone:

“They never die who live in the hearts they leave behind.”

Demolition Derby

27 Aug

This article originally appeared in Just Football as part of their ‘Your Boys Took One Hell of a Beating’ series.

While Martin O’Neill’s appointment as Celtic manager was warmly welcomed by the club’s fans in July 2000, the general consensus was that he would have a huge task on his hands to build a successful side.  Although the Irishman was handed a sizeable transfer budget, it was thought that he and his new club may have to play second fiddle to their great rivals.

Rangers had won 11 of the previous 12 league titles, including the last two under Dick Advocaat.  With David Murray’s millions funding the Ibrox club, they were expected to continue their domination of the Scottish game.  One ‘expert’ in the media believed it would take Celtic as long as five years to challenge again for the league title.

The first Old Firm contest of that season took place at Celtic Park on 27/8/00.  Although the home side had opened their league campaign with four straight wins, even a point against their old foes would have been a step in the right direction – a sign that this time, Celtic weren’t going to meekly roll over.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, could have foreseen what was about to unfold.  Ten years of failure and submission had led to Celtic holding an inferiority complex as big as their 60,000 seat stadium. However, the balance of power between Scotland’s big two effectively shifted in just over ten minutes.  It went something like this:

1 min

A great start.  An early corner for Celtic, and Henrik Larsson’s mis-hit shot is turned into the net by Old Firm debutant Chris Sutton. 1-0

8 mins

Another corner and another goal – this time a header by Stilian Petrov, as he rises above a stunned Rangers defence. 2-0.

11 mins

If the first two goals produced wild celebrations amongst the home support, the third prompted complete and utter bedlam.  Pocket genius Lubo Moravcik twists and turns on the byeline, before his cutback is met by Paul Lambert, who calmly guides the ball into the far corner, past former Borussia Dortmund team-mate, Stefan Klos. 3-0.

15 mins

If the match wasn’t already over, it should have been at this point.  Larsson, through one-on-one with Klos, tries to go round the keeper instead of picking his spot.  The German gratefully smothers the ball.

21 mins

Fernando Ricksen’s first Old Firm game comes to a premature end as the Rangers defender is replaced by Tugay.  Playing at right-back, the Dutchman has been torn to shreds by his fellow countryman, Bobby Petta.  Ricksen’s next visit to Celtic Park later in the season isn’t any more successful as he receives a red card before half-time.

40 mins

A lifeline for the visitors.  Claudio Reyna’s header appears to have been saved by Jonathan Gould but the ball is ruled to have crossed the line. 3-1.

50 mins

Any hopes Rangers have of a second-half fightback appear to be snuffed out as Larsson scores one of the finest goals ever seen in an Old Firm match.  After receiving a chested pass from Sutton around 30 yards out, the Swede skips past Bert Konterman, nudging the ball through the Dutchman’s legs.  As he heads in on goal, Larsson opens up his body as if ready to curl a shot inside Stefan Klos’ left-hand post.  The German keeper tries to anticipate the strike but seconds later he’s grounded and can only admire Larsson’s glorious chip which sails towards the opposite side of the goal.  Larsson wheels away in celebration as the ball drops under the crossbar and into the net. 4-1.

53 mins

A Billy Dodds penalty narrows the deficit as the visitors hang on in there. 4-2.

62 mins

The goal that finally ends the match as a contest.  Petta’s free-kick from the right is met by Larsson, whose glancing header leaves Klos rooted to the spot. 5-2.

80 mins

Already on a yellow card, Barry Ferguson receives his marching orders after deliberately handling the ball and subsequently throwing it away.  Unfortunately for Ferguson, it’s not his only Old Firm battle that day – he is later involved in a street brawl with Celtic fans.

90 mins

The cherry on top of the icing on the cake.  Petta’s ball down the left wing is collected by Stephane Mahe and the Frenchman’s low cross is met at the far post by the outstretched foot of Sutton.  The striker ends the match as he started it – putting the ball in the opposition net and thus, in one game, scoring more goals than he had in all of the previous season at Chelsea. 6-2.

The importance of this result, and the manner of the victory, cannot be underestimated.  A narrow win could have been attributed to good fortune or home advantage, but this was different – Celtic had swept aside their biggest rivals with a breathtaking display of power and pace.

This was no plucky, hard-fought win – more a signal of intent.  During much of that season, O’Neill would describe Rangers as the “benchmark”, but he was fooling no-one.  Despite losing 5-1 at Ibrox in the next meeting of the sides, Celtic were comfortable league champions as they completed their first domestic treble since 1969.

During his time in Scotland, Martin O’Neill won three SPL titles, three Scottish Cups, a League Cup and reached the 2003 UEFA Cup final.  This match was the catalyst for that success, as Celtic didn’t just overcome a psychological barrier, they smashed it to pieces.

SPL Preview 2011/12

1 Aug

A recent piece for Just Football. 

The whole of Europe is eagerly awaiting the new SPL season which kicks-off on 23rd July – well no, actually they’re not.  Not surprising really, given that the last campaign turned out to be a truly horrible affair for so many reasons.  Hopefully this year will be more about players, teams and results, rather than referees, politics and death threats.  Here’s a look ahead to 2010/11:

Some Old Favourites Return

Were the SPL to adopt a Champions League-style theme tune, then ‘Welcome Home’ would be apt.  Hibernian have brought back Garry O’Connor and Ivan Sproule, Willo Flood has signed on again at Dundee United, and Callum Davidson has returned to his first club, St Johnstone.  Chris Clark meanwhile is back at Aberdeen and at the time of writing, Rangers are trying to agree a deal for Carlos Cuellar and may yet move for Kenny Miller.

McCoist v Lennon

That’s as rival managers, not squaring up to each other on the touchline as they did at the end of the Scottish Cup replay in March.  As Ally McCoist embarks on his first season in charge at Rangers, he has money to spend now that Craig Whyte’s takeover is finally complete.  However, he is learning the same lesson as Neil Lennon did last summer – the top two are not as big a draw as they once were, with Rangers’ signing targets Craig Conway, Neil Danns and Tomer Hemed all choosing other clubs.  McCoist has brought in Spanish midfielder Juan Manuel Ortiz and others should follow.

Celtic have brought in Kelvin Wilson to strengthen a defence which, although statistically was the best in the league, conceded too many cheap goals in too many important matches.  Kenyan Victor Wanyama provides options in midfield or at the back.  Lennon is on record as saying that it’s “imperative” that Celtic win the league – he’s not wrong.  Four years in a row without the title hasn’t happened since the dark days of the early 1990’s and if it does, then Lennon’s own future will be in doubt.

Heart of Midlothian

There’s rarely a dull moment at Tynecastle, particularly with club owner Vladimir Romanov around…or even when he’s back in Lithuania.  His most recent act was a bizarre statement via the club’s website which included:

“Every year Hearts fights to be in the top three, but even last season in the last 12 games of the season it was almost like someone replaced the team with a different one. Whose fault is that? Players? Manager’s? Or it is mafia?”

This is the same Romanov who previously suggested that Celtic and Rangers were “buying” officials and has had run-ins with numerous managers and players during his time in charge.

The latest controversy to hit the club is defender Craig Thomson’s conviction for lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour involving two under-age females.  Hearts had originally allowed Thomson to continue his career as if nothing had happened.  However, they then suspended him after public condemnation from fans, sponsors and Edinburgh City Council – even First Minister (and Hearts fan) Alex Salmond had his say.  Hearts have now announced Thomson will leave the club, though there has been speculation that he will move to one of Romanov’s other clubs in Eastern Europe.

Despite the flak they’ve been receiving, it’s looking rather promising on the field.  Excellent in the first-half of last season, the squad has been bolstered with experienced SPL campaigners John Sutton, Danny Grainger, Jamie Hamill and Mehdi Taouil.  They won’t win the title but are clear favourites to repeat last season’s third-place finish.  Don’t be surprised if they land a domestic cup either.

The Top Six

Dundee United should be Hearts’ main challengers for third place, but will have to cope without the departing Conway and David Goodwillie.  Motherwell should also finish comfortably within the top-half – Stuart McCall has made a positive start to his time in charge at Fir Park, including last season’s Scottish Cup final appearance.  Much will depend on new signing Michael Higdon following the loss of Sutton.

Inverness Caley Thistle will look to finish in the top six after being there for much of last season but they too have lost a striker, with the impressive Adam Rooney heading to Birmingham City.  If low-scoring St Johnstone are able to find the net more often (only 23 goals in 2010/11) they may surprise a few people.

The Rest

Kilmarnock will find it tougher this time round without so many of their key men from last year, including Paatelainen, Bryson, Eremenko and Sammon. Craig Brown, meanwhile, will continue his rebuilding job at Aberdeen and any kind of finish above seventh will be a decent return.

Like the Dons, Hibernian need to make a good start or risk being dragged towards the bottom.  Hibs’ preparation has been hampered by speculation surrounding the future of manager Colin Calderwood, who is wanted by Birmingham and Nottingham Forest as an assistant.  Clearly, the timing of such a departure would be far from ideal, but it wouldn’t be a disaster: there has been little evidence during his tenure to suggest that Calderwood is the man to take the club forward, and some of his statements to the media indicate that he wouldn’t be too disappointed to leave either.

For St Mirren and Dunfermline, it could prove to be a difficult season.  The Paisley side were 10th and 11th in the last two seasons and will hope to avoid continuing on that downward trend.  The Pars meanwhile, will take heart from the likes of St Johnstone and Hamilton, who in recent years have both survived in the top flight after promotion.

Off The Field

Scottish football seemed to appear on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers almost as often as the back pages last season.  The threats to Neil Lennon’s life and the touchline attack at Tynecastle showed the world what the Celtic manager has to contend with in order to live and work in Scotland.  Then of course, there was the Dougie McDonald decision-changing fiasco which led to industrial action by referees.  As if that wasn’t enough drama, Celtic and Rangers met seven times during the course of the season, with that explosive cup-tie in March resulting in high-level meetings between the clubs, Scottish Government and the Police.  Anti-sectarian legislation is expected to follow later in the year.

So, expect another quiet season in Scotland.

The Fall And Rise Of Paul Lambert

9 May

11th February 2006: A 1-0 home defeat to second-bottom Dunfermline leaves Livingston six points adrift at the foot of the SPL table.  For manager Paul Lambert, it’s the end of the road as he resigns after winning only 2 league games from a possible 26.  His first managerial job has been a minor disaster and his replacement, John Robertson, is unable to save Livingston from the drop.

Given the start Lambert made to his managerial career, anyone who had suggested that within five years he would be one of English football’s most sought after bosses, would have their sanity questioned.  Yet that’s exactly what’s happened with Lambert leading Norwich City into the English Premier League.

Lambert took on the Livingston job at the end of a glittering playing career.  After playing for St Mirren (winning the Scottish Cup in 1987) and Motherwell he made the move in 1996 that would transform his career.  Borussia Dortmund spotted something that nobody else had, turning Lambert from a decent Scottish league standard attacking midfielder, into one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe.  Following impressive performances against Manchester United in the semi-final, he managed to keep Zinedine Zidane quiet in the 1997 Champions League final, as Dortmund swept Juventus aside 3-1.

Due to his wife’s homesickness however, Lambert’s time in Germany was short-lived and he returned to Scotland, joining Celtic early in the following season.  The success continued: four league titles, three Scottish cup triumphs and two league cup wins, with Lambert eventually becoming club captain as well as a mainstay in the Scotland national side.  Lambert also played in another European final, as Celtic lost out to FC Porto in the 2003 UEFA cup final.

Lambert had turned his attentions to a career in management before his playing days were over, travelling back to Germany to gain coaching qualifications.  Given that he had played for, and learned from, the likes of Ottmar Hitzfeld and Martin O’Neill (whom he seems to replicate in touchline behaviour and dress-sense), much was expected of Lambert the manager.  However, his appointment at Livingston came almost immediately after his playing days were over and perhaps it was too soon, as he failed to see out his debut season at Almondvale.

For some rookie managers, this experience would have been enough to convince that a coaching career wasn’t for them after all.  Lambert, however, is made of sterner stuff.  At the start of the following season he returned to the game, as the new boss of Wycombe Wanderers.  The Wycombe board received a glowing reference for Lambert from O’Neill, his former Celtic boss and himself a former Wycombe manager.

Over two seasons, Lambert took Wycombe to the League Cup semi-final (losing to Chelsea) and to the League Two play-offs (losing to Stockport County).  However he again walked away, this time just three days after failing to achieve promotion.  The decision was again his own, with the Wycombe board taken by surprise.  Lambert himself felt “that this is the right thing to do.”

Lambert’s next stop was Colchester United, in October 2008.  After guiding the Layer Road side to a mid-table finish in League One, the following season started in spectacular fashion with a 7-1 opening day win over Norwich.  Delia Smith and her colleagues on the board were obviously impressed as 10 days later, Lambert took over at Carrow Road.

In his first season in charge, The Canaries were champions and they’ve managed to carry on their impressive form, securing back-to-back promotions.  It’s therefore unsurprising that Burnley approached Norwich for permission to speak to Lambert, and he was even mentioned as an outsider for the Liverpool job before Kenny Dalglish’s appointment.

While it’s natural that Lambert’s head will be turned by interest from English Premier League clubs, he would be mad to consider moving on again.  Despite being in charge of four different sides, Lambert has not yet lasted two years in any managerial post.  Switching clubs again in the near future would throw up questions about Lambert’s loyalty, as well as his ability to see a job through.  He’s already at a club with plenty of potential – smaller teams than Norwich City have survived in England’s top flight

In the longer-term, Lambert will have another option if his career continues on its current upward path – Celtic.  While Neil Lennon is still in his first full season in charge and making a decent attempt at challenging for the SPL title, the shelf-life of an Old Firm manager is far shorter than it used to be, even more so in Lennon’s case given the recent threats and the explosive device sent in the post.  Being in charge for four or five years as boss at Celtic Park or Ibrox is seen as a decent run, and failure to deliver the title within two years usually results in being shown the exit door.  Lambert was amongst the bookies favourites before Lennon’s appointment was confirmed, and his name is likely to be close to the top of list if the position becomes available in the near future.

Lambert therefore, could potentially face the same dilemma as experienced by Owen Coyle in 2009 – to take charge of a huge club playing in an inferior league and with limited finances, or try and establish himself in the England’s top flight.  Coyle ignored boyhood allegiances and remained down south.  Lambert will do the same in the short-term but given that his family have remained in the West of Scotland for much of the time he has pursued a career in England, the opportunity of a job in the SPL would provide additional benefits.

The qualities displayed by Lambert as a player seem to be serving him well in management: intelligent, down-to-earth, efficient, and effective.  He described his club’s ascent to the English Premier League as a “miracle”, and while that is perhaps a slight exaggeration, he’s certainly made that short spell at Livingston seem like a very distant memory.

Old Firm Discussion

26 Apr

Some thoughts on the 0-0 draw between Rangers and Celtic on Sunday.

1. A poor first-half followed by a second period which, although lacking in quality, provided plenty of goalscoring opportunities.  The standard of passing however, was truly awful.

2. Nikica Jelavic was again a threat, particularly during the opening 45 minutes.  He continues to improve and will be a key player for Rangers in the years ahead.  Kyle Lafferty was Jelavic’s partner up front and as is often the case with Lafferty, he made a bright start before fading.  During his Ibrox career Lafferty has never come close to justifying his transfer fee – the talent is there, he just keeps it well hidden.

3. Lafferty had Rangers’ best opportunity of the match, and he really should have buried his header after getting ahead of Charlie Mulgrew.  Despite having several clear chances, Rangers rarely tested Fraser Forster.

4. Maurice Edu has plenty to offer but his confidence is so low that the end of the season cannot come quick enough.  An awful performance.

5. In the opening exchanges Celtic looked nervy, perhaps realising what a win would mean.  They only really came into the game after the enforced introduction of Kris Commons, who became the link between midfield and attack.  Why he wasn’t included in the starting line-up, is anybody’s guess.  Scott Brown and Beram Kayal were more influential after the break.

6. Lennon was right to publicly defend Georgios Samaras after the penalty-miss.  However, the striker is now starting to live off his two goals at Ibrox in January.  Anthony Stokes looked more menacing in the short time he was on the field, though he was crazy to take the dive that lead to a yellow card – there appeared to be a clear shot at goal.

7. The penalty award was soft, but they are often given.  The Joe Ledley incident meanwhile, wasn’t a spot-kick as Steven Whittaker had pretty much no time to move out of the way.

8. Once again Allan McGregor showed his class, with two outstanding saves to deny Majstorovic and Izaguirre.  Will a Rangers takeover allow them to keep him at the club?

9. Should they maintain their goal difference advantage, Celtic need four wins and a draw to clinch the title.  The finishing line is in sight, and Celtic should cross it first.  Victory in their next two games, against Dundee United and Inverness CT, would be massive steps towards doing just that.

10. That’s enough Old Firm games for one season.

Old Firm Comment

21 Mar

1. Rangers collect the first silverware of the season, and probably deserved the win.  This was more a war of attrition, rather than a football classic, but great entertainment as usual.

2. It’s almost as if Walter Smith thought: “What the hell, it’s only the League Cup.”  Caution was thrown very much to the wind, with a far more positive formation and attitude from his side, highlighted by the inclusion of young Gregg Wylde.  Had they sat back as they have in recent visits to Celtic Park, they may well have been on the end of another hammering.

3. Steven Davis and Steven Naismith were the main men for Rangers.  Busy, energetic, and in the faces of the opposition from kick-off.  Davis looked more like his usual self.  A mention also for David Weir – on the receiving end of all sorts of stick recently, but made some vital clearances.

4. Nikica Jelavic will receive much of the acclaim for his winning goal.  Another hard-working performance but he’s difficult to work out.  On one hand he gave Thomas Rogne a difficult afternoon, but his dive was poor, particularly when he could have been in on goal.  Still doesn’t look like and out-and-out scorer, and needs a prolific partner.

5. Celtic on the other hand, never really got going.  They didn’t take the initiative after the equaliser or during extra-time following Bougherra’s departure.  There were too many average performances on the one day and too many players overrunning the ball and failing to release it when they had the chance.

6. Georgios Samaras started the match like a man on a mission and looked set for another barnstorming Old Firm performance.  However, it was ultimately a frustrating afternoon for the Greek – poor first touch and no genuine chances.

7. Walter Smith’s decision to bring on Vladamir Weiss proved to be a masterstroke.  A player with a lot to prove after a poor season, his pace and direct running helped Rangers get the better of their old foes during extra-time.  He also played the pass for Jelavic’s winner.

8. Celtic seemed to miss Daniel Majstorovic more than Rangers missed Kyle Bartley.  The big Swede’s physical presence was needed and had he been on the pitch, Jelavic may well have seen less of the ball.  Thomas Rogne seemed to struggle without his usual defensive partner and at times, Charlie Mulgrew looked like more of a natural centre-back – Mulgrew however, went to ground too quickly at the winner.

9. A decent performance from Craig Thomson and his assistants, and credit to Thomson for being brave enough to reverse his initial penalty decision when Jelavic dived.  Rangers could have had a spot-kick when Wilson’s arm connected with the ball and there was the bizarre award of a free-kick in Bougherra’s favour after he barged Kris Commons.

10. Rangers will take heart from their performance and the result.  The destiny of the SPL title is still in their hands and they will look ahead to the remainder of the season with some confidence.  However, both sides know that one slip could cost them the title.  The last Old Firm encounter at Ibrox will be huge, but it’s unlikely to be decisive.