CRAIG Gordon experienced one of the least demanding 90 minutes of his career as he made his Old Firm debut on Sunday, prompting his captain Scott Brown to observe he only got involved in the action to relieve his boredom.
While the Celtic goalkeeper is a little more diplomatic in his assessment of the 2-0 League Cup semi-final win at Hampden, he admits it was no more than he expected from Rangers who did not manage a single effort on target all afternoon.
“Rangers played how we thought they might, trying to get men behind the ball and looking to hit us on the counter attacks with a more direct ball,” said Gordon. “They were just looking for one of them to fall kindly. It doesn’t take a great deal of luck for it to work, a misplaced header or whatever it might be, and they have a chance. But it didn’t work out for them.
“We managed to deal with it fairly well, read whatever they tried. When Jon Daly came on at half-time he made things a bit more difficult, winning a few more balls. But we managed to read the flick ons and not give them any chances. I just had to make sure I kept my concentration. Right from the start I was looking to dominate my box and come and take any balls coming in. I knew that, if we gave away free-kicks, they’d be immediately looking to put balls into the box and try to put us under pressure.
“That was my mindset going into the game, to be quite aggressive and come for crosses and aim to take the pressure off us. I also wanted to make them think twice about putting the ball in the same area again. We were fairly comfortable in the game, I think. But it’s one of those, if we’d lost the first goal or had a man sent off, then it could’ve been a lot more difficult. And on these kind of occasions it can happen.
“So it was about us controlling what we could and going out there trying to play football on what was a fairly difficult surface. We’d discussed the importance of trying to keep calm during the game. We knew we had to concentrate on playing our game and not be caught up with other things. At the same time, we also had to win the battle fairly and go into our tackles being strong and trying to dominate. I felt it was pretty even in that department. In the end, we won because of a couple of great goals.”
Celtic midfielder Nir Bitton was another having his first taste of Old Firm action and the Israeli midfielder admitted a fear of failing to live up to universal pre-match predictions of a comfortable win had helped motivate him. “We didn’t want to be left crying after the game,” said Bitton. “Everyone expected us to win and those can be the most dangerous games. But we scored two early goals and then controlled and closed out the game. It was one of the most emotional games I have played in. The atmosphere was magnificent. When you go out into that, you just want to do well and make your fans proud of you. They give you extra power.”
Bitton’s team-mate Mikael Lustig was not surprised at the level of dominance Celtic enjoyed but would welcome the return of the on-field rivalry against Rangers on a regular basis. “Obviously we should be better than them just now,” said Lustig. “Rangers should be in the Premiership, because they still have some decent players, but Aberdeen and Dundee United are better teams than them at the moment. But it’s a big game when we play Rangers and it has been a big loss for Scottish football.”