Glasgow Celtic, chasing a domestic treble, took on their bitter rivals, Glasgow Rangers, in an enthralling Scottish Cup Semi-Final fixture this past Sunday (April 17th). The Old Firm fixture has always been the most widely celebrated and revered game in Scottish football, but whenever these sides meet in a knockout setting, the intensity of competition and energy from both sets of fans is all the more palpable.
After watching for about five minutes, you could feel that neither team were ducking from the occasion, holding nothing back and both playing pretty direct, forward flowing, football. Fans will definitely have felt the anxiety of both sides as they warmed into the game, with several players making fundamental mistakes with passes or decision making as they attempted to find their rhythm and flow in the game. By about 20 minutes both sides seemed to have warmed into the occasion and the football played became more calculated and composed. Despite this, the intensity of the occasion didn’t dissipate, with some aggressive challenges starting to fly in from both sides. The 0-0 scoreline at half time would suggest that it was a boring and uneventful first half, but for fans watching in person or on tv, it was anything but!
Second half provided the action in the goals department. Poetically, ex-Rangers youth player, Celtic left-back Grieg Taylor, was the man to grab the opening goal as his quick footed touch and finish from just inside the box caught Rangers’ keeper and defence unaware. Unfortunately for Celtic, this lead only lasted just over 12 minutes as Rangers manager, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, made some changes to his side and their tactics immediately following Celtic’s goal. One of these changes was the addition of Scott Arfield who came off the bench to grab the equaliser to tie the game up at 1-1 with about ten minutes to go in regular time to set up a cagey close to the end of the 90 minutes.
From the first whistle of extra time I felt as if Rangers were going to just edge the win. Despite this being their second game that went to extra time in a matter of days (following their European fixtures) Rangers appeared to be the fitter team and were more energised in these weary and testing minutes of the game. With three minutes to go, Rangers got a little bit of fortune as reward for their fitness and hard work, with a deflected cross from Rangers left-back Calvin Bassey creeping into the goal after deflecting off of Celtic defender Starfelt, going down as an own goal. Celtic then desperately responded with a last gasp push for an equaliser to force the game to penalties. In the end, they couldn’t find it in themselves to break down a now energised Rangers unit who saw their 2-1 win out to the end of extra time. Rangers will now progress to the final and play against Heart of Midlothian for Scottish Cup glory.
Celtic fans will argue that the referee, Bobby Madden, got several crucial yellow card decisions wrong which influenced the flow of the game. However, you can’t win every game of this magnitude, especially in the middle of a rebuild as Celtic are under Postecoglu. Additionally, should Celtic achieve the double this season, I don’t think you’ll find any Celtic fan who will say they’re disappointed with not getting the trouble after the lows and dark times of last season, though losing an Old Firm semi-final to their most bitter rivals will still hurt.
On the other hand Rangers fans will say that it was a game of few quality or clear cut chances and that they are relieved that Celtic couldn’t find it in them to double their lead to 2-0. Additionally, Van Bronckhorsts tactical changes (most notably bringing Davies and Arfield on from the bench) totally shook up the flow of the game, tipping momentum in Rangers’ favour.
However, there is a third side to every story of a game, general fans of football or impartial fans will say that Rangers were the slightly better team on the day and deserved to win. The referee might have made a few mistakes but that’s just part of human error, and a change of referee wouldn’t have actually made much difference to the end result in a gritty game of chance.
The general consensus online, through fan reactions, articles and videos makes an almost unanimous case for man of the match to go to John Lundsram. It was evident from the first whistle that the Rangers man was in full control of play and would be orchestrating the game.