Deila faces sack as Rangers triumph
Celtic 2 Rangers 2 - Rangers win 5-4 on penalties
Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30
The myth that Scottish football could somehow retain its value without an effective Rangers challenge to Celtic was pulverised into the Hampden turf by the end of an epic Old Firm contest, as compelling as any in the previous 400 meetings of these arch-foes.
This was football as grand opera which, at one stage, looked as though it might outdo the Ring Cycle in duration.
The raucous, booming celebrations of the Rangers support, as they hailed their team's audacious victory against the odds, guaranteed that Hampden was rocking at the finale as they hailed their date with Hibernian in the first Scottish Cup final between two lower-league contenders.
The Celtic faithful, meanwhile, seethed as they departed. Before the stragglers had reached their transport home, radio phone-ins and social media had been swamped with the outpouring of anger.
The most insistent demand was that Ronny Deila should go, the sooner the better. One group of incensed followers even pitched up in front of the stadium's main entrance to chant that the Norwegian should be hanged.
Happily, the general atmosphere was nothing like so intemperate, with only 10 arrests for minor offences reported within the ground. In any case, the need to follow the endless switchbacks of play consumed virtually all the available energy of the stands.
Most prior assumptions about the course of the match were shredded immediately as Rangers got straight into Celtic's faces.
The pace of Rangers' thrusts caught Celtic utterly unprepared and Deila's players could not make up the ground before the interval.
By that stage they had trailed for half an hour to a typically predatory goal by Kenny Miller.
The seasoned striker, a veteran of three spells at Ibrox and one in Celtic's colours, posted notice of intent as early as the fifth minute when he fastened on to a shrewd prompt from Barrie McKay to bear down on Craig Gordon, who moved smartly off his line to block the danger.
The goalkeeper, though, could not deny Miller on the quarter-hour mark. Andy Halliday's attempt to find Miller from outside the box was spotted by Scott Brown but, although the Celtic captain got a toe to the ball, he could only deflect it even more favourably for the Rangers forward to get the drop on Dedryck Boyata, then swivel and shoot low beyond Gordon.
Boyata's presence looked like an unwise gamble on Deila's part from the start.
Although the Belgian central defender somehow escaped a caution for a succession of fouls, it was only a matter of time before further calamity befell him and it was to applause from the Celtic fans that he was replaced by Erik Sviatchenko 10 minutes after Miller's goal, although it took an injury to Boyata to force the decision.
Rangers' tempo and resolve were all the more remarkable because they were without regulars like the injured Harry Forrester and Martyn Waghorn, as well as the cup-tied Billy King and Michael O'Halloran. In fact, the Ibrox squad was curtailed to the point where Mark Warburton could name only five substitutes.
After playing the first 45 minutes at racing pace, the question for Warburton was how his players would cope when muscles began to ache in the later stages.
A more pressing problem for Deila was that too many of his starting selection were simply anonymous.
Gary Mackay-Steven could have featured on a missing persons appeal and even the normally combative Brown looked half-blown by the break.
Scalding words presumably rebounded from the dressing room walls, because Celtic emerged transformed, forced four corners on the trot and harvested reward from the last of those, when Sviatchenko rose above Danny Wilson to head forcefully home.
The equaliser was a blessing for Patrick Roberts who - in Celtic's one moment of first half threat - had shot into the side netting on the rebound from a Leigh Griffiths effort which spun back to him off the post, with the Rangers goal almost empty.
Sviatchenko's intervention was not supervened during normal time and an added period looked inevitable long before the 90 minutes were up.
Extra-time, astonishingly, simply provided a condensed version of what had gone before as a spectacular drive by McKay put Rangers ahead again, only for Tom Rogic - who had replaced the struggling Stefan Johansen - to bullet home an equaliser at the start of the second additional period.
The fluctuations of fortune insisted on a further twist, provided in the dying seconds by Griffiths with a phenomenal free-kick which crashed down off the crossbar, hit Wes Foderingham on the back and spun behind for a corner, which Rangers defended to ensure the penalty decider.
Halliday, McKay, Lee Wallace and Gideon Zelalem were successful for Rangers and Charlie Mulgrew, Nir Bitton, Griffiths and Mikael Lustig for Celtic. Misses by Rangers' Nicky Clark and Celtic's Brown made up the statutory five apiece and Nicky Law began the sudden death phase by beating Gordon coolly.
It fell to Rogic to reply for Celtic, but the Australian, who had kept them in contention in extra-time, pitched his effort over the top to bedlam from the Rangers end which must have registered on the Richter scale.
It will certainly trigger aftershocks at Parkhead, with Deila now a dead man walking.
It is only a matter of time before the earth swallows him up. (© Daily Telegraph, London)