NO MEETING of Celtic and Rangers could ever be described as a non-event but this resumption of Old Firm hostilities at Hampden can unquestionably be declared a no contest.
Scorers: Griffiths 10, Commons 31
The gap in quality between the teams was every bit as pronounced as had been widely predicted beforehand as Celtic cruised into their 30th League Cup final with a degree of ease the final scoreline cannot begin to convey.
First-half goals from Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons gave the Scottish champions a level of control they were never likely to relinquish. Rangers were unable to lay a glove on them, with Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon not called upon to make a single save all afternoon.
This remains a fixture which offers Scottish football far greater exposure and commercial possibilities than any other. But until the Ibrox club properly address their myriad shortcomings both on and off the pitch, it is also a fixture which cannot hope to regain the status it once commanded.
Not even the desperately poor playing surface at Hampden, which cut up from the opening minutes, could provide any assistance to Kenny
McDowall’s players in compensating for the gulf in ability facing them.
Celtic’s superior movement and greater composure in possession was occasionally hampered by the underfoot conditions but the Ibrox side simply lacked the ammunition or conviction to take any advantage.
The early breakthrough from Griffiths was exactly what Ronny Deila’s men needed to ease any subconscious fears they might have been harbouring that this could be a day when the underdogs carried a nasty bite.
In a match when their defending would have to be robust and diligent at all times, Rangers were guilty of switching off fatally at the tenth-minute opener. They failed to react when Mikael Lustig took a quick throw-in on the right, finding Stefan Johansen unmarked and with all the time he needed to measure a cross in towards the six yard box.
Griffiths’ run allowed him to nip in behind the flat-footed Richard Foster and guide a firm header beyond the helpless Steve Simonsen. The striker was booked for an over-exuberant celebration in front of the Rangers support but that could not dilute his joy at his most significant moment yet in a Celtic shirt.
He should have doubled the lead seven minutes later when he was picked out by Lustig’s cross from the right but this time he was unable to make a firm enough connection with his header and glanced the ball wide.
It was already evident that Rangers were unlikely to pose any threat to Celtic through open play. Their best hope of producing a response came from set pieces but whenever they did force a corner or win a free-kick in a promising position, the delivery from either Fraser Aird or Ian Black was lamentably poor.
Celtic continued to dominate with the driving presence of captain Scott Brown ensuring they were able to dictate proceedings from midfield despite Rangers’ attempting to flood that area with Black, Kyle Hutton and Nicky Law the central trio in a 4-5-1 formation.
The second goal in the 31st minute came as a consequence of Brown’s persistence as he placed Law under pressure on the edge of the Rangers penalty area. Law’s sliding attempt to clear merely succeeded in feeding the ball into the path of Commons who shifted the ball neatly on to his left foot and sent a rising shot high beyond the despairing fingertips of Simonsen into the ‘keeper’s top right-hand corner.
There was a sense now that this could turn into the turkey shoot for Celtic many had predicted and Rangers were fortunate to avoid further damage before the interval. Griffiths would surely have scored again had referee Craig Thomson played advantage instead of stopping play for a foul on Brown, who had played the striker through on goal.
Virgil van Dijk then wastefully headed over from close range from a Stokes corner, before Simonsen made a remarkable save to deny Stefan Johansen from point-blank range after the Norwegian midfielder had been set up by Commons.
Rangers introduced Jon Daly for the feckless Aird at the start of the second half, switching to an orthodox 4-4-2, but Celtic remained firmly in the ascendancy. Simonsen had to scramble to his left to keep out a 22-yard shot from Commons, then Griffiths curled a free-kick just wide of the ‘keeper’s left-hand post as they hemmed Rangers in for sustained periods.
There was little coming back in the way of a meaningful response from McDowall’s side who almost appeared content simply to avoid a heavier defeat. They survived a strong penalty claim from Celtic when Griffiths went down under the combined attention of Black and Lee Wallace as he raced through towards Simonsen.
The tempo dropped considerably in the closing stages with Celtic safe in the knowledge Rangers simply lacked the means to threaten a comeback. Wallace sent a dipping shot over the top from distance but Gordon remained untested to the end as Celtic’s defence coped comfortably with the greater aerial threat posed by Daly.
There was a brief threat of the kind of ugly flare-up which regularly marked the fixture in the past when players of both teams jostled angrily in stoppage time when Brown was booked for a foul on Black but order was quickly restored.
Celtic: Gordon, Lustig (Matthews 84), Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Johansen, Commons, Stokes (Forrest 75); Griffiths (Guidetti 69). Subs not used: Ambrose, Scepovic, Henderson, Zaluska..
Rangers: Simonsen, Foster, McGregor, McCulloch, Wallace; Aird (Daly 46), Hutton, Black, Law, Smith; Miller (Clark 81). Subs not used: Templeton, Boyd, Faure, Shiels, Robinson.
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