Mike Aitken sees a final featuring three penalty kicks
Rangers 3 Celtic 2 (aet)
The Scotsman, 26 March, 1984
A HAT-TRICK from Ally McCoist helped Rangers grasp their one chance to win a major honour this season in the Scottish League Cup final at Hampden yesterday. The game was dominated, however, not by an individual but the award of no fewer than three penalty kicks, two for Rangers and one for Celtic. These decisions spiced an otherwise undistinguished occasion with much controversy and some excitement.
Unluckily for McCoist, his three goals did not warrant an extra payment from Skol, the sponsors, for £10,000, because the forward completed his treble in extra-time. Rangers appreciated the man of the match’s goals no less warmly for that, with the decisive strike coming in the 104th minute.
Rangers just about deserved their marathon win, having the edge in sharpness through McCoist and the most composed midfield player in Russell. Just 19 weeks after manager Jock Wallace returned to Ibrox for his second spell in charge, the club have regained the trophy Wallace himself last guided them to in 1976 and 1978.
Without the suspended Pritz and Redford, and with Williamson and Walker ineligible, Rangers had to improvise as well as battle to win this League Cup. Even when Colin McAdam came into the attack and teenager Hugh Burns figured in midfield, the Ibrox side were never second best to Celtic in terms of either determination or ideas.
Celtic had their best spell in the second half of normal time when Tommy Burns moved menacingly from the midfield, running at the Rangers defence and creating space and time for others. Had Provan, still battling for match fitness, looked as lively, then David Hay’s side might have salvaged more than just a period of extra-time from this Sabbath final.
As was to be expected from such an emotional contest, play was relentlessly physical, with referee Valentine marking eight names in the book – Reid, Aitken and Melrose (Celtic), and Clark, McCoist, Russell, McPherson and McClelland (Rangers).
While the outcome was to hinge on the award of penalty kicks to Rangers in the 45th and 104th minutes, and Celtic’s in the 90th minute, the early pattern was dictated by Rangers’ greater enthusiasm. They started the match as the more positive side and should have been in front in the eighth minute.
Good work by Cooper and Russell in midfield enabled McCoist to make a quick break on the right. His cross invited a goal, but Clark overran the ball when he should have scored and MacDonald’s shot from a more awkward angle was blocked.
It was surprising how few ideas Celtic had in attack in the opening phase and Rangers did not have to be particularly clever to hold the upper hand. Certainly as the half unfolded, Celtic steadied their game in midfield and appeared to have turned the tide when McStay began to look more confident on the ball.
There was a period of insistent Celtic pressure in which McGarvey hit the side netting in the 34th minute. Two minutes later Aitken blasted a shot over from a Provan corner after a goalmouth scramble.
It was against the late run of play, then, that Rangers went in ahead at the interval. When Russell pushed the ball past McLeod, he was judged to have been fouled by the Celtic midfield man. Referee Valentine awarded the first penalty of the afternoon with McCoist side-footing the ball to Bonner’s left.
Though McClair burst through a couple of minutes after the interval and had a shot parried by McCloy, the expected Celtic fightback took a while to materialise.
Before Burns finally got his midfield colleagues moving, Rangers seemed to have the game tied up with their second goal in the 61st minute. This was a strange affair, a goal Celtic would have to regard as another defensive slip on their part.
Goalkeeper McCloy’s huge kick out was misjudged on the edge of the box by Aitken. Clark’s challenge helped to knock the ball into the path of McCoist, who had a simple task of rolling it into the net.
With Hugh Burns on for MacDonald, it appeared that all Rangers had to do was keep their heads and the cup was theirs. But Celtic had other ideas and they reduced the leeway with the best goal of the match in the 67th minute.
From a free kick conceded after McClelland had committed a professional foul on Burns outside the box, Rangers suffered the appropriate punishment. Tommy Burns himself chipped delightfully over the Rangers wall for Brian McClair to turn and volley the ball into the net from eight yards.
There were more changes in personnel. Melrose came on for McGarvey and Colin McAdam replaced Clark. While Celtic showed a desperate willingness to go forward, an equaliser was apparently beyond them until another penalty decision in the final minute gave Celtic a last-gasp chance of an equaliser.
Ironically, it was the Rangers scorer, McCoist, who brought MacLeod down in the area. Referee Valentine had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Mark Reid, with commendable composure, stroked the equaliser past McCloy.
That goal took the game into extra time and if the probability was that a second match might be needed to decide the outcome, that reading of the situation didn’t take into account the willingness of the Celtic defence to commit harakiri.
For in the 104th minute McCoist was pushed in the back by Aitken in the box for the most blatant penalty of the afternoon.
McCoist took the kick himself and while Bonner made an effective job of smothering a weakly-struck effort, the striker showed his alterness by latching on to the rebound and scoring the goal which more than justified his £200,000 transfer from Sunderland in the summer of 1983.
Rangers: McCloy, Nicholl, Dawson, McClelland, Paterson, McPherson, Russell, McCoist, Clark, MacDonald, Cooper. Subs: McAdam, Burns.
Celtic: Bonner, McGrain, Reid, Aitken, McAdam, McLeod, Provan, McStay, McGarvey, Burns, McClair. Subs: Sinclair, Melrose.
Referee: R Valentine.