Rangers' two old-stagers come up trumps at Hampden: classy gestures, Dujon Sterling case, perfect end to perfect weekend

Rangers claim first trophy under Clement after skipper Tavernier lights up dour spectacle

Left-back to right-back, the old one-two. Borna Barisic, one of Steven Gerrard’s first signings, combined with match winner James Tavernier, who dates as far back as Mark Warburton’s time in charge, to hand current manager Philippe Clement a maiden Rangers trophy just 64 days into his reign.

Tavernier made sure the Belgian was present on the podium with them as they celebrated beneath the flames of the – officially sanctioned – pyro furnaces. It was notable the Aberdeen players all stayed to watch the winners receive their medals, which was a touch of quality that sadly eluded the Pittodrie side in the preceding 90-plus minutes. Clement also made sure he consoled Aberdeen manager Barry Robson before sprinting to join the celebrating Ibrox throng. Such acts might not have lanced the deep-seated animosity present in this fixture, but it was pleasing to observe nevertheless.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Rangers were deserved victors. Clement revelled in becoming the first Ibrox manager to win this particular piece of silverware since Walter Smith. He frolicked with the supporters at the end after delivering further evidence that he’s the real deal. What a transformation in fortunes. It was a weekend when Rangers fans got everything they wanted, which might make Christmas day a bit of a let-down. Indeed, they’ve been spoiled in recent days.

The Rangers players celebrate winning the Viaplay Cup.The Rangers players celebrate winning the Viaplay Cup.
The Rangers players celebrate winning the Viaplay Cup.

In addition to this and Celtic’s defeat against Hearts 24 earlier there was an eye-catching win in Spain against Real Betis as the revitalised Ibrox side topped their Europa League group. All this and Rangers are still playing a 35-year-old supposed auxiliary in Leon Balogun at centre-half and, at centre forward, someone who has still to completely convince. Cyriel Dessers could have taken a large step towards banishing the remaining doubts on the hour mark. However, he could not find the finish after getting the better of Slobodan Rubezic on the near touchline before chopping past Stefan Gartenmann. He might have been better served squaring for Ross McCausland rather than shooting, although Kelle Roos did make a good, if slightly fortuitous, block.

Then there's the case of Dujon Sterling, ostensibly a wing-back who's been deployed in centre midfield of late and who, in many people's eyes, was this cup final's stand out performer. He was written off long ago after being lumped in with Michael Beale's rotten batch of summer recruits.

As for the winning goal, it was a moment of quality from two old stagers who have also had – and continue to have – their critics. They apparently cannot defend. Well, in addition to contributing to a clean sheet, Barisic and Tavernier conjured up the defining moment in the 76nd minute of the 78th League Cup final. Barisic curled a ball towards the back post and Tavernier brought it down and slammed an acrobatic effort inside Roos' near post. It was at the Rangers end too. What a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Aberdeen staged a late rally. Roos twice came up for corners to provide a late burst of much-needed drama. Balogun and Rubezic were booked following a stramash at inside the goal following a corner. Aberdeen needed the ball to make the net bulge, not warring players. The lack of cutting edge was particularly disappointing after Aberdeen made a statement of intent by playing both Bojan Miovski and Ester Sokler up front. The pair, who gave Rangers centre back pairing of Connor Goldson and Balogun a torrid time in their last meeting, could not tap into the dynamism displayed that afternoon. Aberdeen’s greatest hope of scoring, certainly in the second half, seemed to be profiting from a scrappy half chance falling at someone’s feet.

Dujon Sterling was impressive for Rangers in midfield.Dujon Sterling was impressive for Rangers in midfield.
Dujon Sterling was impressive for Rangers in midfield.

There was barely an Aberdeen fans left in the ground as the losing team went up to collect their medals and there will be plenty of regrets, as well as some frustration. A tug in the box by Todd Cantwell on Gartenmann in the first half went unpunished but making a significant deal of this is clutching at straws somewhat. Barry Robson did not mention it afterwards. He did, though, query whether the game had suffered due to the exertions of both teams in Europe on Thursday night. He quickly pointed out his surprise at the scheduling of this showpiece occasion following his side’s win over Hibs in the semi-final.

There’s no debate this was a poor game. Maybe Derek Adams has a point after all. Oh for the classic finals of yesteryear between these two teams. Oh for the ball players like Davie Cooper and silky marksmen such as Charlie Nicholas. Even Doug Rougvie and Graham Roberts would have brought some artistry to the unsightly first-half battle. It improved – slightly – in the second.

Pyro smoke billowed across the pitch at the start as the authorities’ health and safety pleas were roundly ignored once again. The fans’ argument might be that it was a lot more dangerous out on the pitch, where elbows were being employed as weapons and other body parts were being used for nefarious purposes. Mercifully, no players sustained any injury quite as serious as the one that saw goalkeeper Jim Leighton carried off after two minutes the last time these teams met in a cup final at the start of this century, although Cantwell did receive a jab to the back of the head from Graeme Shinnie and was presumably seeing stars for a while.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Cantwell had already taken his gloves off, throwing them down near the Aberdeen technical area. Whether or not it was a symbolic act, he certainly livened up. A cross from the left was just too high for McCausland – or the Rangers winger was just too small. Either way, it remained goalless at half-time. Sokler could not connect with Nicky Devlin’s cross at the far post shortly after the re-start in what was probably Aberdeen’s best chance to score. Roos denied McCausland, who had burst into the box, just before the hour mark, and then tipped a couple of Tavernier free-kicks past. The Rangers skipper was not to be denied his latest place in Ibrox history.