Verdict: Rangers expose Celtic's familiar flaws to close in on Scottish Cup glory
The transfer of power is complete. In a Scottish Cup fifth round tie which effectively summed up the whole season for both Old Firm clubs, Rangers followed up their dethroning of Celtic as Premiership champions by condemning their great rivals to a first trophy-free campaign for 11 years.
Steven Gerrard’s side weren’t at their absolute best for chunks of the afternoon but they didn’t need to be against opponents undone by familiar vulnerabilities at both ends of the pitch.
For Celtic’s new chief executive Dominic McKay, who looked on from the directors’ box at Ibrox ahead of starting work at Celtic Park on Monday morning, it was a stark illustration of the major rebuild he has to oversee this summer.
Tough day for Kennedy
It now seems highly unlikely John Kennedy will be given the opportunity to lead that much needed overhaul from the technical area. His first defeat as interim manager was a painful one, ending hopes that a successful Scottish Cup defence could salvage something from a season which now can’t end soon enough for Celtic and their supporters.
Rangers would love it to carry on forever and they will now be confident of extending it all the way to lifting the Scottish Cup at Hampden on May 22. This is a team operating with purpose, unity and clear-headed organisation.
Their imperious domestic form at Ibrox has now seen them win all 19 of their league and Scottish Cup matches at home, racking up 16 clean sheets in the process. League Cup winners St Johnstone are capable of presenting a serious challenge when they travel to Govan in the quarter-finals next weekend but it would be a major surprise now if Rangers do not go on to lift the oldest piece of silverware of them all for the first time since 2009.
Davis rolls back the years
Steven Davis, who played in the 1-0 final defeat of Falkirk that afternoon 12 years ago, was the man who set Rangers on their way to a sixth victory in 11 Old Firm matches on Gerrard’s watch.
The midfielder displayed athleticism which belied his 36 years to open the scoring in the 10th minute with a close range overhead kick after a shot from Joe Aribo was deflected into his path.
It sparked the match into life after a tentative start. For too much of the afternoon, Celtic lacked intensity and belief. But they did enjoy a spell of pressure after falling behind in which Filip Helander had to clear off the line from Kristoffer Ajer after a bizarre close-range miss by Stephen Welsh.
Yet again, Celtic were defensively suspect at crucial moments. Diego Laxalt was beaten all ends up by Aribo whose low cross was turned into his own net by Jonjoe Kenny under pressure from Ryan Kent. It was no surprise that Laxalt was replaced at left-back by Greg Taylor at the start of the second half.
Forrest badly missed
The absence of James Forrest, the winger unable to recover in time from his latest injury setback, was unquestionably a blow for Celtic who missed his pace and intent in the attacking third.
When they did threaten, they were woefully profligate and utterly lacking in conviction. Mohamed Elyounoussi’s poor first touch saw him scorn a simple chance, the ball smothered by a grateful Allan McGregor.
There was a half-hearted look to much of Celtic’s work, even in the periods when they dominated possession. Odsonne Edouard, marshalled effectively for most of the day by Connor Goldson and Filip Helander, could not even accept a 79th minute lifeline for his team when referee Bobby Madden judged Aribo’s nudge in the back of substitute Leigh Griffiths as worthy of a penalty kick.
Edouard’s attempt from 12 yards was saved by McGregor, the 39-year-old goalkeeper adding another memorable moment to his showreel in a season where his contribution has so often been immense and invaluable for Rangers.
Patterson shines again
It was also another excellent afternoon for a player at the opposite end of his career. Nathan Patterson, apart from a couple of slack moments in possession, was outstanding and the teenage right-back continues to make a compelling case for inclusion in the Scotland squad for this summer’s Euro 2020 finals.
Fit again James Tavernier was among the substitutes but the club captain may have a real fight on his hands to retain first choice status at right-back next season.
In midfield, Celtic were never able to exert control of any sustained significance. The cool head of Davis and the boundless energy of Scott Arfield helped Rangers quell the influence of Celtic captain Scott Brown, whose hopes of a trophy-lifting end to his career at the club before he moves to Aberdeen have now been dashed.
Alfredo Morelos, having broken his Old Firm scoring duck at Celtic Park in the previous clash between the sides, was unusually subdued for much of this one. But while he found clear cut chances elusive, his work rate and link up play in conjunction with Aribo and Kent was a good example of the diligent adherence to the game plan which Gerrard and his coaching staff have so successfully instilled in their players since day one of the season.
It has already reaped its just rewards in the shape of the Premiership crown. If Rangers do go on to complete the double, it would be a fair reflection of how dominant they have been domestically.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Arfield, Davis, Kamara; Aribo, Morelos (Roofe 80), Kent. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Tavernier, Bassey, Simpson, Hagi, Itten, Zungu, Wright.
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Bain, Kenny, Welsh, Ajer, Laxalt (Taylor 46); Brown, McGregor; Christie (Griffiths 73), Turnbull, Elyounoussi (Ajeti 86); Edouard. Subs not used: Barkas, Bitton, Soro, Rogic, Montgomery, Ralston.
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