Alan Pattullo: Rangers were a mere stepping stone for Celtic

Callum McGregor wheels away in celebration after opening the scoring. Picture: SNS.
Callum McGregor wheels away in celebration after opening the scoring. Picture: SNS.
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So where do you begin? With the fact Rangers were unable to lay a glove on Celtic even when the opposition were temporarily reduced to ten men during the first-half? Perhaps the failure of the Ibrox men to summon so much as a shot on target in this same opening period (it actually took them just over 60 minutes)?

Or the suspicion that, without having watched every single Old Firm clash going back to 1888, this often felt as if it could be among the most one-sided contests of all time between these teams?

Rangers won’t now win anything this season. But they deserve a trophy of some sort for making it to half-time trailing by just a single goal, scored by the ever impressive Callum McGregor after 11 minutes.

Kenny Miller later admitted he “dreaded” seeing the possession statistics relating to how the opening spell of the match played out.

The Ibrox team’s efforts at providing a rousing finale for their supporters were commendable and should have earned a goal at least. But then Celtic also hit the post through substitute Tom Rogic while also scoring twice and were in control throughout.

Thirteen shots to seven, seven on target to Rangers’ three. Then there’s the 60 per cent possession compared to 40 for Rangers. These statistics do not actually reflect just how comfortable Celtic were.

There’s no disgrace in this for Rangers, of course. Everyone else in Scottish football is currently trailing in Celtic’s wake and are likely to be for some time.

Pedro Caixinha’s side tried valiantly to make a game of it in the second half – the tireless veteran Miller in particular. 
Martyn Waghorn, too, should have 
buried a header.

And the Rangers fans deserve credit for staying until the end. Not for them the mass evacuation of Spurs fans signalled by Chelsea’s fourth goal in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final. Two goals behind from early in the second half, these Rangers supporters endured this along with their team. Perhaps conscious this was an hour of need, they decided desertion was not an option.

There have been far bigger Old Firm defeats in terms of margin of scoreline – one of them as recently as this season. But few in history have felt so devoid of drama and suspense.

Rangers fielded a young team – two of their backline, David Bates and Myles Beerman, were making their Old Firm debuts at the age of 20 and 18 respectively. This proved a steep learning curve, though they will be the better for it.

But it was also a missed opportunity for Rangers to reach a Scottish Cup final while getting one over their old rivals. The failure to make things even a little uncomfortable for Celtic was hard to bear for the Ibrox club’s supporters.

Their frustration reached maximum level at around the 17th minute when Scott Brown strutted towards a retreating bank of Rangers midfielders, like the lord of all he surveyed. He was permitted to be the guv’nor for most of the 90 minutes.

Had we no such thing as bank holidays, the Celtic skipper would not even have been playing. But even without the benefit of the archaic workings of the SFA, it is safe to say a Brown-less Celtic would have coped.

“Let’s welcome back Rangers” urged the Tannoy announcer at the start of the second half. As someone noted, the word “back” seemed superfluous. They had yet to turn up.

It’s not often assistants to the assistant referees get jeered. But this was Don Robertson’s fate on account of his failure to spot Alex Schalk’s dive to win a point for Ross County seven days earlier.

Brendan Rodgers had made some unkind and actually rather patronising comments about Robertson, referring to him as “the kid” while warning his career could be on the line were he to err again.

In the event, the only difference in the first half between Robertson, pictured, and the Celtic supporters grouped behind him at the east end of the stadium was that he had a better view of the action by dint of being about 40 yards further forward. Everything was taking place in the Rangers half.

Robertson was a little more involved in the second half, although the penalty decision in Celtic’s favour seemed to be made by referee Willie Collum alone. Most were able to tell it was spot on.

Scott Sinclair scored even though Wes Foderingham managed to get his fingertips to the ball, though he succeeded only in diverting the ball on to a post. Unlike 24 hours earlier, a 2-0 lead never seemed in the least bit precarious.

Despite some late action around the Celtic goalmouth, this was less an obstacle and more a stepping stone to the final for Rodgers’ all-conquering team.