What Rangers win over Celtic says about Glasgow power balance and Giovanni van Bronckhorst's tenure
There have been memorable statement performances for Giovanni van Bronckhorst across his five months at the Rangers helm.
Yet, the continental commonality to the two legs against Borussia Dortmund, and the Ibrox triumphs over Red Star Belgrade and Braga that have earned the club a Europa League semi-final against RB Leizig, had ensured something seismic was missing for the Dutchman. As the Ibrox club slid six points behind Celtic in the cinch Premiership title race, it seemed as if van Bronckhorst and his team couldn’t really keep the home fires burning while blazing a trail in cross-border competition.
What they produced at Hampden, with a display of extraordinary application and valour to come out on top against Celtic over 120 minutes despite falling behind before prevailing 2-1, has both readdressed and addressed what was gapingly absent from van Bronckhorst’s tenure. On the back of two straight derby defeats - the most recent the 2-1 loss at Ibrox only three weeks ago, which followed on from February’s 3-0 mauling in Glasgow’s east end - delivering against their bitterest rivals in the most unpromising circumstances feels profound. Beyond the potential for re-igniting their bid to retain the championship in the remaining five games - encounters about Celtic will now be understandable nervy - the success places them within one win of ending one of the club’s sorriest sequences. A total of 22 domestic cup finals have come and gone without blue and white ribbons being tied to such silverware. Now, Rangers will be heavily favoured to bring that sequence to a close when they face Hearts in the Scottish Cup decider on May 21. And if they do, with the 2011 League Cup the club’s last knock-out domestic success and the Scottish Cup not lifted by an Ibrox captain since 2009, van Bronckhorst will buy himself breathing space - however the league and the Europa League pan out. There is a sense that the power balance in Scottish football, which seemed to be shifting firmly towards Postecoglou’s team, is more nuanced as a result of how events at Hampden unfolded between the pair.
Belying their exertions over two hours against Braga three days earlier, the Ibrox men dug deeper than a crater to overcome the loss of a 64th minute Greg Taylor opener and, by sheer force of will, find the means to inflict a first domestic defeat in 34 games on their ancient adversaries. As well as halt their bid to snare for Celtic as a club a fifth domestic treble in six seasons.
The unwillingness of van Bronckhorst’s men to accept their fate just as Celtic had appeared ready to take control of an encounter in which they were second best for much of the first hour was rewarded with an equaliser 12 minutes from time. It ensued from Kemar Roofe getting a penalty area touch to a slung-over cross from the right by James Tavernier. That set up substitute Scott Arfield to conjure up a ferocious, fizzing finish on the half turn.
In extra-time, fortune favoured Rangers for the bravery shown by them throughout when a left wing Calvin Bassey cross was knocked past his own keeper by Carl Starfelt under-pressure from substitute Fashion Sakala. The Zambian sought to claim the credit for the goal that clinched the semi-final, but in truth he might as well have claimed the credit for the discovery of penicillin for all he had to do with either.
That decisive moment came with 114 minutes on the clock but Celtic never looked like producing a response thereafter. They were well off it, as too often had been the case across the afternoon. In truth, the winner was no more than Rangers deserved against a Celtic team that were unusually disjointed and devoid of conviction in a tie their followers will believe turned on Cameron Carter-Vickers smacking the bar with a hooked effort following a goalmouth melee five minutes after they had taken the lead. Certainly, it is a stretch to believe that Rangers would have had it in them to find a way back into the semi-final from two-goals down but Celtic never exhibited the authority to make them worthy of such an advantage.
Indeed, in the normal period, it was Postecoglou’s men who appeared weary and leaden, as Rangers had the snap in midfield despite how much their Europa League semi-final earning success on Thursday must have taken out of them. It was perplexing to see them able to bring more zip and cohesion to the fray than their rested rivals. Rangers aggressive nature, at times, might have been erratically dealt with by referee Bobby Madden, who seemed to shirk showing Joe Aribo a second yellow after a late tackle from the attacker, but Celtic were the architects of their own downfall against a Rangers team that lost Aaron Ramsey to injury just before the break.
His withdrawal came at the end of a tense opening half when resolute defending from Postecoglou’s team accounted for the Ibrox’s side superior possession and drive failing to produce any near things - save for the excellent John Lundstrum shuddering the upright with a curling drive five minutes from the interval.
Celtic brought on Kyogo Furuhashi and Matt O’Riley for Liel Abada and Tom Rogic earlier in the second half in a bid to alter the momentum. And it seemed these changes might have the desired effect when O’Riley played a free-kick to Callum McGregor, whose forward pass found the unlikely threat of Greg Taylor in the box. After bringing the ball under control, the left-back clipped a shot that grazed Bassey on its way to squeezing in at John McLaughlin’s near post. It appeared potentially decisive. Rangers, though, simply did not allow that to be the case.
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