Celtic cruise to League Cup final at Rangers’ expense

CELTIC booked their place in the 2015 Scottish League Cup final against Dundee United with a comfortable victory over a toothless Rangers in the first Old Firm derby in almost three years.

  •  400th meeting of the sides and first since Celtic’s 3-0 SPL win in April 2012
  •  Both McDowall and Deila making Old Firm managerial debuts
  •  Fifth straight Celtic win ensures their sixth clean sheet in a row
  •  Hoops reach first League Cup final since 2012
  •  Gers in semi-finals for first time since 2010/11 when they won competition
Match officials and players in the tunnel (Celtic v Rangers - 1st Feb 2015)
Raring to go: The match officials lead out the two sides from the tunnel at the national stadium in Glasgow

CELTIC booked their place in the 2015 Scottish League Cup final against Dundee United with a comfortable victory over a toothless Rangers in the first Old Firm derby in almost three years.

Leigh Griffiths looped home a four-yard header from Stefan Johansen’s cross to give Celtic the ideal start after 10 minutes.

A blistering 20-yard effort from Kris Commons, who could still leave the club before tomorrow’s transfer deadline, settled the issue on the half-hour mark with his eighth goal of the campaign.

Rangers – currently 16 points adrift of Scottish Championship leaders Hearts – scarcely threatened in an attacking sense with Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon not called upon to make any saves.

Flashpoint: Uncharacteristically for an Old Firm derby, there was only one minor flare-up in stoppage time involving both sets of players
Flashpoint: Uncharacteristically for an Old Firm derby, there was only one minor flare-up in stoppage time involving both sets of players

The Scottish Premiership champions, who won the last meeting between the Glaswegian rivals at Parkhead in April 2012, will face Jackie McNamara’s Tangerines on Sunday, March 15 after their 2-1 victory over holders Aberdeen on Saturday.

It also keeps their challenge alive on four fronts with a Scottish Cup fourth-round tie at Dundee to follow next week as well as a two-legged Europa League last-32 clash with Inter Milan later this month.

Groundhog day: Deila described the game as the biggest of his career but he will have enjoyed the occasion more with the sweet taste of victory
Groundhog day: Deila described the game as the biggest of his career but he will have enjoyed the occasion more with the sweet taste of victory

It was the perfect afternoon for Celtic manager Ronny Deila on his first visit to Hampden Park and the Norwegian will be hoping to claim his first piece of silverware by ending the 14-time winners’ six-year wait to lift the League Cup.

Like Deila, it was an Old Firm managerial debut for Gers caretaker boss Kenny McDowall, who will be disappointed his side failed to make a significant impact as the record 27-time League Cup winners could not replicate the three victories enjoyed over Premiership teams in cup ties this term.

Second best: Kenny McDowall - in his fourth match at the helm - watches on as his Rangers team had no answer to Celtic's dominance
Second best: Kenny McDowall – in his fourth match at the helm – watches on as his Rangers team had no answer to Celtic’s dominance

Celtic – three points clear of second-placed Aberdeen with a game in hand in the Premiership – made three changes from last week’s 1-0 win at Ross County as Mikael Lustig and Anthony Stokes were preferred to Adam Matthews and John Guidetti while Johansen returned after an eye injury.

The Gers, who had not played since 10 January after their last two matches were postponed because of the inclement weather, unsurprisingly opted with a five-man midfield as anchorman Ian Black returned to the side to allow top scorer Nicky Law to support former Celtic striker Kenny Miller in attack.

It was a relatively settled start for McDowall’s team amid a predictably electric atmosphere and frenetic opening but they must have feared the worst when undone defensively as early as the tenth minute.

Leap for the lead: Griffiths is no stranger to semi-final goals at Hampden Park having scored in two Scottish Cup ties for Hibernian in 2012 and 2013
Leap for the lead: Griffiths is no stranger to semi-final goals at Hampden Park having scored in two Scottish Cup ties for Hibernian in 2012 and 2013

Johansen was afforded all sorts of room to deliver a pinpoint cross and Griffiths got free to head beyond Rangers keeper Steve Simonsen for his sixth goal of the season.

Having drawn first blood, Celtic established a foothold in possession despite the barren state of the Hampden turf that cut up considerably as it endured a second match in the space of 24 hours.

On the surface: The state of the pitch at Hampden Park was far from ideal for both sides
On the surface: The state of the pitch at Hampden Park was far from ideal for both sides

The movement of Griffiths in particular caused problems to a Gers defence in which Darren McGregor was the only Old Firm debutant as the Scot connected with another header from Lustig’s cross but could not direct it on target on this occasion.

With the Hoops the dominant force, Stokes then rifled a shot over the crossbar from 20 yards after profiting from a stumble by Richard Foster.

Spectacular: Last season's PFA Scotland Player of the Year Commons produced a sumptuous left-footed strike to double Celtic's lead in the first half
Spectacular: Last season’s PFA Scotland Player of the Year Commons produced a sumptuous left-footed strike to double Celtic’s lead in the first half

But their advantage was doubled in explosive fashion with Commons – who is holding out for a two-year Celtic deal after only being offered one year – lashing home a stunning 20-yard strike into the top corner after Scott Brown hassled Law off the ball.

Rangers worked their way back into a breathless contest yet wasted several set-piece opportunities with Bhoys stopper Gordon completely untroubled on his Old Firm bow.

Day off: Gordon - a Scottish Cup winner at Hampden Park with Hearts back in 2006 - was a bystander for the entire 90 minutes in the Celtic goal
Day off: Gordon – a Scottish Cup winner at Hampden Park with Hearts back in 2006 – was a bystander for the entire 90 minutes in the Celtic goal

Possessing a measure of comfort, Celtic were furious that they were not allowed to progress forward when Brown shrugged off the attentions of Black, who tugged him back on half-way.

However referee Craig Thomson – in charge of his tenth Old Firm derby – pulled the play back for a free-kick when Griffiths had been played clean through on goal.

But Deila’s men could have been out of sight by the break when Stokes’ inswinging corner was headed over inside the six-yard box by Virgil van Dijk before Commons knocked down for Johansen, who was denied by an outstretched leg of Simonsen from close range.

Seeking to buck up their ideas, Rangers replaced the anonymous Fraser Aird with striker Jon Daly at the interval to add a greater physical presence and an extra frontman.

It failed, though, to bring an immediate change in fortune as Celtic continued to pen their cross-city neighbours in their own half with Commons going close two minutes after the restart, a rasping low drive which Simonsen gathered at the second attempt.

Griffiths then curled a free-kick narrowly wide after the heavily-involved Commons was sent sprawling by Stevie Smith.

Stand-out performer: Scotland and Celtic captain Brown led by example with a mature display in midfield
Stand-out performer: Scotland and Celtic captain Brown led by example with a mature display in midfield

The Gers struggled to advance out of their own half for long periods with Celtic skipper and man of the match Brown playing a key role in the engine room by dictating the tempo and getting amongst his Gers counterparts.

A scrappy spell ensued with a series of fouls creating a stop-start nature which suited Rangers, whose ability to carve opportunities was severely limited by their own substandard delivery from wide areas.

The closest the Light Blues came was a dinked cross-cum-shot from left-back Lee Wallace which sailed inches over the Hoops crossbar which hardly warranted even a half-chance.

The free-flowing pattern of the opening 45 had somewhat diminished to a turgid pace but Celtic remained in full control nevertheless as Deila introduced John Guidetti, who boldly suggested in the build-up he fancied a hat-trick, in place of the impressive Griffiths midway through the half.

James Forrest was also given a run-out from the Celtic bench and – as the Hoops supporters lifted the subdued atmosphere – the winger cracked a wayward effort over from range before dinking over the top when exchanging neat passes with Commons.

Furrowing figure: 35-year-old Miller could not add to his seven goals against Celtic as his 17th Old Firm appearance proved forgettable
Furrowing figure: 35-year-old Miller could not add to his seven goals against Celtic as his 17th Old Firm appearance proved forgettable

The Gers threw on former Queen of the South hitman Nicky Clark for the tireless Miller more in hope than expectation with 10 minutes to go.

But it was an overall frustrating experience for the Ibrox club, who went out with a whimper as Celtic deservedly prevailed on a historic afternoon to set up a return to the national stadium next month and the first cup final of the Deila era.

 

TEAMS

Celtic:

Celtic XI (v Rangers - 1st February 2015)

Substitutes:  Guidetti (for Griffiths 68′), Forrest (for Stokes 74′), Matthews (for Lustig 84′).

Not used:  Zaluska (GK), Ambrose, Henderson, Scepovic.

Booked:  Griffiths (11), Lustig (42), Brown (90+4)

Goals:  Griffiths (10), Commons (31)

 

Rangers:

Rangers XI (v Celtic - 1st February 2015)

Substitutes:  Daly (for Aird 45′), Clark (on for Miller 81′).

Not used:  Robinson (GK), Faure, Shiels, Templeton, Boyd.

Booked:  Hutton (65), Foster (90+2)

 

Craig Thomson referee

Referee:  Craig Thomson (Scotland) – 7/10
Attendance:  50,925

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