Ryan Christie: Now Celtic have psychological edge over Rangers

Ryan Christie believes Celtic’s smash-and-grab League Cup Final victory over Rangers has cranked up the pressure on the Ibrox side when the Old Firm rivals meet again on Premiership business at the end of the month.

Ryan Christie holds aloft the Betfred trophy with  Kristoffer Ajer.
Ryan Christie holds aloft the Betfred trophy with Kristoffer Ajer.

Rangers were left shell-shocked by the manner of their defeat at Hampden on Sunday when they failed to capitalise on a dominant performance and saw Christopher Jullien score the only goal of the game with Celtic’s sole attempt on target all afternoon.

Christie freely admits he was as guilty as any of his team-mates in under-performing on the day, although his well-delivered free-kick for Jullien’s goal turned out to be a significant contribution.

The Scotland midfielder feels Celtic’s success in winning ugly to claim the club’s 10th consecutive domestic trophy laid down a marker as they look to resist a stronger challenge in the title race from an improved Rangers side this season. The teams go head to head again at Celtic Park on 29 December and Christie feels the Scottish champions now hold a 
psychological edge over Steven Gerrard’s men.

“Yes, there was added pressure on Sunday because it was a derby as well as a cup final and we were desperate to win it,” said Christie.

“All the outside talk was that this was going to be Rangers’ time and that they were going to do outdo us, so it was great to prove everyone wrong and win that 10th consecutive trophy.

“Yes, it increases the pressure on Rangers for the game at the end of the month. We’ll definitely learn from Sunday as well, because that was far from how we wanted the game to go when we went out there. We felt we would be dominant but we’ll take what we’ve learned into the game at Parkhead.

“I think my assist was the only thing I did in the game. It was the toughest final we’ve played in. We’re honest enough to say that we were nowhere near our best on Sunday in terms of the fast-flowing attacking football that everyone is so used to from us.

“On the flip side, we showed we can do the other side of the game, especially in the last half-hour when we were down to 10 men after Jeremie Frimpong was sent off. We showed great resilience and a willingness to defend our penalty box and we kept going with good energy.

“It’s a cliche to say that champions always find a way to win but I kept looking up at that clock in the last 10 minutes and it seemed to take an eternity, especially when the game turned into wave after wave of attacks from Rangers. That made it difficult for us to get out because all we were doing was blocking shots and crosses, but we did what we needed to do to get over the line.”

In a tumultuous contest, goalkeeper 
Fraser Forster, pictured, was Celtic’s hero with a series of fine saves, including the penalty stop to deny Alfredo Morelos an equaliser after Frimpong’s dismissal.

Christie admits he feared the worst when substitute Mikey Johnston missed a simple chance to double Celtic’s lead shortly after Forster’s penalty save.

“Yes, because it’s rare that you get an opportunity like that on the counter-attack when you’re down to 10 men,” added Christie.

“To be fair to Mikey, he’s come on in the last few games and looked really quick and you would’ve put your house on him to score. He put it wide, of course, but even after that we showed tremendous fight.

“Plus, the big man between the sticks produced one of the best goalkeeping performances I’ve ever seen.

“I’ve never before been confident that, when the opposing team has a penalty, that they’re not going to score, but I wouldn’t want to take a penalty against Fraser because of the way he fills the goal.

“He was great from start to finish and his save from Ryan Jack in the first half was just ridiculous – that was flying into the top corner all the way.

“When you have someone like that behind you, it gives the 10 players in front of him extra belief. I thought his display against Lazio at Parkhead was the best I’d ever seen but he topped that on Sunday and credit to him.

“As a team, there was certainly a difference after half-time. We came in and admitted that we weren’t at our best and that – because of the pitch and the weather – it wasn’t the day to play the nice football we had wanted to, so we had to find another way to get there.

“Scoring from the set-piece was an example of that, as was the way we defended their set-pieces and we came through all that adversity to win it.

“I think it shows how far we’ve come since the start of the season, when we were playing European qualifiers and winning but still shipping goals, whereas now we seem to have steadied that, even though we had to move players around after the red card.

“Kristoffer Ajer went to right-back and did brilliantly against Ryan Kent, who’s been a big player for Rangers this season. Nir Bitton came on and did well against Alfredo Morelos so, even with Rangers throwing the kitchen sink at us, we got there, which is incredible.”