Celtic scratched a 92-year itch as they swatted Rangers aside to maintain their pursuit of an historic unbeaten domestic season and treble.
The final scoreline did not even begin to reflect the superiority enjoyed by Brendan Rodgers’ men as they secured Celtic’s first Scottish Cup semi-final victory over their Old Firm rivals since 1925. Seldom in the history of this fixture has a 90 minutes been quite as one-sided.
Aside from a late rally from Rangers, the Scottish champions were utterly dominant as goals from Callum McGregor and Scott Sinclair booked their place in the 27 May final against Aberdeen. The gulf between the teams was every bit as wide as the 33 points which currently separate them in the Premiership table suggest.
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For new Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha, it was a stark illustration of the size of the task facing him as he looks to make the Ibrox club credible challengers to Celtic’s currently undisputed status as the country’s pre-eminent force.
Twelve months on from last season’s semi-final between the teams, when Rangers’ victory spelled the beginning of the end of Ronny Deila’s tenure at Celtic, the transformational effect Rodgers has had was underlined once more.
Celtic exerted their superiority from the start, playing with assurance and authority. In contrast, Rangers were uncertain and almost passive in a first half which somehow saw them manage to restrict the tournament favourites to a single-goal lead.
The breakthrough came in the 11th minute and was a sweet moment for McGregor who was one of the Celtic players who failed from the penalty spot last year when Rangers won the tie in a shoot-out.
The midfielder is blossoming under Rodgers’ guidance and he provided a sublime finishing touch after Moussa Dembele had neatly taken down a long ball from Mikael Lustig inside the Rangers penalty area and turned smartly to lay it off. McGregor strode on to the pass and arrowed a first-time left-foot shot beyond the helpless Wes Foderingham.
Dembele, pictured, missed a chance to double Celtic’s lead when he headed over from a Stuart Armstrong corner but the French striker’s involvement came to a premature end when he pulled a hamstring midway through the first half.
His replacement Leigh Griffiths quickly forced a save from Foderingham as Celtic remained firmly in the ascendancy. It took Rangers until the 41st minute to manage their first attempt at goal, a long-range effort from Kenny Miller which flew well off target. Caixinha showed a willingness to be proactive in a bid to alter the flow of the match, making a double substitute at the start of the second half with Barrie McKay and Joe Dodoo replacing Andy Halliday and Joe Garner.
It initially appeared as if the changes might have the desired effect for Rangers, Dodoo missing a decent headed chance from a long Martyn Waghorn throw-in, but a Celtic counter-attack in that instant saw them go 2-0 up.
The raid saw Griffiths sprint into the penalty area where he was taken out by James Tavernier’s mis-timed challenge. Despite Tavernier’s protests, it was a straightforward decision from referee Willie Collum which required little help from additional assistant Don Robertson behind the goal.
Sinclair stepped forward to convert from the spot. Foderingham did well to get a touch to the ball but could not prevent the winger claiming his 24th goal of an outstanding individual season. The Rangers goalkeeper then did well to touch over a fierce shot from Griffiths as Celtic appeared capable of inflicting a heavy defeat on their old rivals.
Rangers gradually offered greater resistance and showed more purpose in their work. Veteran striker Miller was yet again their most effective performer, dragging his team on to the front foot with a firm header which forced Craig Gordon into his first save of the match in the 62nd minute.
Miller was unlucky with a lob which dropped just over the crossbar, then had a shot saved by Gordon as Rangers searched desperately for a lifeline. Waghorn should have offered them that sliver of hope in the 87th minute when he wastefully headed over from close range after being picked out by Tavernier’s cross.
Yet there remained a sense that Celtic, who were denied a third goal when substitute Tom Rogic struck Foderingham’s right-hand post with a 20 yard drive, would have been able to respond to any questions posed of them.
They enjoyed control in midfield for most of the afternoon, driven on by captain Scott Brown, whose availability following the initial threat of a suspension for his red card at Ross County the previous weekend proved to be a key factor in his team’s fourth victory in five Old Firm matches this season.
Rangers were outmuscled, outmanoeuvred and ultimately outclassed by Brown and his team-mates. With their last hope of silverware gone, the only crumb of comfort still available to Rangers would be to inflict Celtic’s first domestic defeat of the campaign when they meet again on Premiership business this Saturday. But the smart money will stay on Celtic who are now six games away from season-long domestic invincibility and a first treble for 16 years.