Kris Boyd stars in Rangers’ tale of two cups
Then reality struck, like a hammer hit. Round about 5.10pm the draw for the semi-finals of the Scottish League Cup was announced. Standing up at the back of the rain-drenched stand, the BBC’s Chick Young happily relayed down to us the draw as it was happening on TV. “It’s Celtic versus Rangers!” shouted Chick with a mischievous smile.
In those seconds the longest build-up to any game in the history of football – a duration of 83 days or nearly 13 weeks – was duly commenced. Celtic will play Rangers for the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years at the end of January. And with this, alas, nearly all thoughts of these dogged 90 minutes down here on the Clyde coast were immediately vanquished.
The latter was a pity, because this wasn’t a bad game of football between these two teams. Rangers continued their recent winning ways, while Ian Murray’s Sons of the Rock proved once again that teams in the lower reaches of the Scottish game can still play composed, skilful football, even if the end result is often missing.
Rangers, slow to start, became strong and resourceful, claiming this Scottish Cup third-round tie through Kris Boyd’s 45th-minute winner. Dumbarton were thoughtful and enjoyably competitive throughout.
But enough of that. The League Cup draw having been made, an eager gaggle of reporters stood around, ready to purvey the first of many excitements while awaiting reaction from the Rangers camp. Just as with Celtic at Parkhead, a cheer was heard erupting from the Rangers dressing room, presumably as news of the draw was delivered.
“It’s something to really look forward to,” said Boyd. “Hopefully, it will be a tremendous game, and we can show that we are still two massive clubs who can go and put on a performance.
“At Rangers, we know we will need to be at our best if we are to have any chance of beating them. But we are confident about going in to any game. With the players we’ve got, I think everyone in our dressing room will be looking forward to the Celtic game.
“Celtic will go into to it as favourites, but we know that, if we can play at our best, then we can give anybody a game in Scotland. It will be massive.”
Boyd happily took a potshot at John Guidetti, a Celtic striker who seems to enjoy shooting from the lip, and who had blithely claimed that whomever Celtic faced in the League Cup semi-finals were there to be cut to ribbons.
“Aye, well, that’s good for John Guidetti,” said the Rangers striker. “But I think, coming from someone who has never played in an Old Firm game before, he doesn’t know what he’s in for. Time will tell. Right now Celtic are scoring a few goals and seem to be steamrolling everybody in front of them. But it wasn’t that long ago they were under pressure from teams round about them, so I think Celtic should just concentrate right now on trying to get to the top of their own division.”
Ally McCoist expressed his own delight at the thought of facing Celtic, though you got the impression that, deep down, he knew this distant League Cup semi was going to be a tall order for his players. McCoist remains a manager under relentless scrutiny, derided as incompetent by a section of the Rangers support, but who shows commendable guts and resolve in getting on with this ceaseless soap opera called Rangers.
McCoist certainly likes a certain type of stodgy experience – Boyd, Kenny Miller, Richard Foster, Stevie Smith and Lee McCulloch all started this match for Rangers – but the stand-out in a blue shirt for an umpteenth time was Lewis Macleod. The 20-year-old has that striking bearing of a gifted player – upright, light on his feet, and gliding across the grass – which sets him apart.
It was Macleod’s forceful run just before half-time which eventually allowed him to feed the ball to Boyd, who dug it out from under his feet, before striking a low shot in off Jamie Ewing’s left post and behind the goalkeeper.
Dumbarton at times were a joy to watch: skilled, determined, and often creative in building their play from the back. Much of their work was impressive and a credit to their manager. But all of this was lost amid the other heart-stopping news that was emerging.