Throughout the build-up to the Old Firm semi-final, the narrative stayed consistent. Rangers had drawn plaudits for their performances in the Ladbrokes Championship this season, storming to the title with many games to spare, but that was against lower-league opposition. This was Celtic in a Scottish Cup semi-final. The best team in the country. Surely it would be an obstacle too far.
All along the Rangers players said they had every chance of winning the game and they proved it on the day. They started the better side, dominated the first half and at the end of a pulsating 120 minutes of football plus penalties, they were the squad that deservedly emerged victorious. This may have been a surprise to some, but not to those in blue.
While Celtic remained guarded in the build-up, Rangers talked up their chances and then backed it up on the park. “Obviously there was a lot of talk before this game about how far we are behind but I thought we showed today that we are more than a match for them,” said Kenny Miller, scorer of the opening goal.
“We imposed our game on them from the first whistle. We knew they still posed a threat, they’ve got good players, but we showed that we’ve got good players, and we knew that we could nullify them.
“I’m not surprised by our first-half dominance. We wanted to go out and play the game we can. We knew we would have to run harder, faster and longer, but if we did the right things we could cause them problems and get opportunities to score. So the game went pretty much how we thought it would go. Over the piece I thought we deserved it.”
More so than securing the league title, this victory highlights the turnaround in Rangers from last season to the current campaign. When the sides met in the League Cup semi-final last year, there were light years between the rivals as the blue half of Glasgow escaped with only a 2-0 defeat. With everything that the fans and even some players have been through in the last few years, this victory provided a cathartic release like no other.
“I think that is the most emotional I have ever been after a game – because I knew what it meant to the players, the coaches, the manager, the fans, to everybody at the club who have put in a lot of effort to get us back on track,” said Miller. “For me it was a fantastic day – I have never really felt like that. I have always been one for celebrating and being happy, but today was emotional for me at the end. It was great to be involved in.”
The question now shifts to whether Rangers are already equipped to launch a title charge next season. There is a massive difference between standing up to an opponent on a one-off day and bettering them over the course of a 38-game league season. Yesterday’s victors know reinforcements will have to be made, but at least this game proved talk of an immediate charge on the Premiership crown is far from fanciful.
“Listen, we will add new faces – that is just the nature of it,” said Miller. “We have said all season that we are looking to strengthen, we are looking to get better. But we don’t fear going up next season, and we don’t think that we can’t challenge.”