Craig Fowler gives his take on the big match at Hampden as Rangers upset their greatest rivals Celtic.
Rangers are back
We knew they were back in to the top flight, but we didn’t know they were back to being, well, Rangers. Predictions for next season have ranged from fourth to second, with only a rare few going as far to say they could make an assault on the Ladbrokes Premiership crown. While games in the cup competitions against other sides - notably St Johnstone and Kilmarnock - would indicate they are not quite at such a level yet, and Celtic may be made of stronger stuff once the inevitable manager change occurs, today’s game showed they are not as far away as a lot of us realised.
Dedryck Boyata cannot be trusted
Ok, we knew Boyata was not the most dependable of centre backs, but even his harshest critics wouldn’t have been expecting what we witnessed today. Mentally, he just wasn’t ready for the game, at all. Even though it’s only one match, that’s a damning indictment on his future at the club. This is what you’re brought to Celtic to do, perform in the big games. For 80 per cent of the season Celtic could easily get by with a number of centre backs currently in Scotland on a fraction of the wages Boyata is, but they sign these “marquee” players for the purpose of getting far in Europe and winning the big domestic games, such as an Old Firm semi-final.
Scott Brown might be done
He’s still only 30 and with the advancement in sports science in recent years he should still have another two or three years playing at his peak, which is being a driving force in the midfield for Celtic - both on the continent and at home - and for Scotland. However, since he returned from the knee injury which robbed him of two-and-a-half months he’s been a shadow of his former self. Today’s game passed him by and when he did get on the ball his passing was wayward. This was the kind of match Brown used to thrive in; when the atmosphere is excellent, the game is played at breathtaking pace and passions are running high. Instead, he just couldn’t get to grips with it. Perhaps he rushed back from the injury, maybe because of his advancing age it’s taking him longer to get up to speed, or maybe, just maybe, he’s already on the downward slope.
James Tavernier can defend
Those who have defended Tavernier’s abilities as an, er, defender have always stated that he’s actually a competent full back when asked to be, it’s just that most of the time he’s told to be a centre forward masquerading as a full back, which leaves the area behind him open to exposure. Today, while he still got forward on occasion, was more about defending and he revelled in the responsibility, making a number of key interceptions and tackles. Though he’s never going to be the best defensive full back in the league, he at least showed that he can be trusted to do his part against an elite level opponent.
Rangers have a paper-thin squad
Celtic may not have made it to penalties, or even extra-time, if it weren’t for the substitutions made by each side. Every change by Celtic made the team stronger, while the opposite was true of their opponents. That was not a fault of Mark Warburton on the day. He needed fresh legs and didn’t have much to work with. Nicky Law couldn’t shackle Kieran Tierney as effectively as Dean Shiels had, who himself was filling in for the injured Harry Forrester in an unfamiliar role on the right wing, while Nicky Clark contributed very little after coming on for the knackered Kenny Miller. Even the Rangers’ subs bench only had five players on it, one of whom was teenager and veteran of one substitute appearance, Liam Burt. It’s a concern for the final if Hibs can get their act together and something that will need to be addressed in the summer. Warburton prefers a smaller squad but eventually injuries and suspensions are going to catch up. With the type of high-intensity Rangers like to play with, you always need reliable options off the bench to keep energy levels up.