The contemptible ease with which Celtic dismissed Rangers yesterday continued once the whistle had sounded on the 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win for Brendan Rodgers’ men. It was never going to be any other way when victorious captain Scott Brown had his say on one of the most commanding derby successes he has enjoyed in a decade of contesting the fixture.
“We knew they were going to sit deep and couldn’t press us, they don’t have the legs that we’ve got or the quality. We showed that yet again today,” the Celtic captain said. “It was a really professional performance from start to finish. We knew if we’d turn up we’d win the game – and we did that. It was all about our movement and how fit and how sharp we are. We showed that in bundles.”
Brown acknowledged the fact Rangers had been presented as an improving team, had already shown they could take something from a derby with the 1-1 draw at Celtic Park last month, and had pulled off an upset in last year’s Scottish Cup semi-final all added to the motivation within a team now only one game away from completing a domestic treble.
“The semi-final last year we were disappointed. It was the worst we could ever play, it was the best they could ever play,” he said. “They got lucky on penalties. That was going to be a hit or a miss. But we’ve shown our quality again today.”
Yet for all that yesterday proved a breeze against a reclusive Rangers, when the sixth meeting between the sides rolls around on Saturday, Brown expects a contrasting challenge as the home side have a final attempt to end their ancient adversaries’ now 41-game, unbeaten domestic season. Brown couldn’t resist suggesting that the need for Rangers to be more expansive ought to spread fear in their ranks.
“It will be different Saturday, it was always going to be different going to Ibrox,” said the 31-year-old. “They’ve got to come out and try and press and create chances, especially with being at home. They’re going to be scared with the pace we’ve got on the counter attack. They’ll need to watch out for that.”
Brown will need to watch out for Thursday’s SFA appeal against the two-game ban he was handed for the straight red card received at Dingwall last Sunday before knowing if he will be on the pitch at Ibrox. The midfielder was able to play yesterday because the fast-track process was delayed by Easter holidays.
“If my appeal doesn’t come through then someone else will come in,” he said. “We’ve got strength in depth, there’s also Nir Bitton,and Eboue and Liam Henderson. I might get a wee rest...”
It was always Rodgers’ intention to rest Brown owing to his commitment to playing for Scotland on 10 June resulting in an abridged summer break for the player ahead of a mid-July start for the club’s Champions League tilt. The Celtic manager intends to give brief rest periods to several players who have June international dates.
That group could have an additional member following the performance yesterday of Callum McGregor, who opened the scoring with an exquisite finish. The playmaker’s recent form gives rise to the possibility that Celtic could have seven players in Gordon Strachan’s squad for the World Cup qualifier against England at Hampden.
Brown sees no reason why he should not then have McGregor for company in the Scotland set-up alongside their team-mates Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest and Leigh Griffiths, pictured, who can push for his place after an excellent display when yesterday taking over from a Moussa Dembele now likely to be sidelined with a hamstring pull.
“I don’t see why Callum can’t be involved for the England game, look at the way he’s playing just now. He’s in fantastic form,” said Brown. “Look again today at the way he was receiving the ball, with his back to the man, keeping control of it, turning and using it very well. What a finish for his goal.
“Callum’s an unsung hero, but not within the squad. We know how good he is and he’s appreciated by all of the boys. It’s great to have a player like Callum to add to what we’ve got in midfield. It’s also good for Scotland with the three of us in midfield, me and Stuart too. We all seem to be playing a lot together and we’re enjoying it.”