Tuesday 24 October 2017

Brown earns Celtic replay as two see red in Cup thriller

Rangers 2
Celtic 2

Celtic's Scott Brown celebrates in front of El Hadji Diouf after scoring against Rangers during their Scottish Cup clash. Photo: Getty Images
Celtic's Scott Brown celebrates in front of El Hadji Diouf after scoring against Rangers during their Scottish Cup clash. Photo: Getty Images

Roddy Forsyth

As the common currency of Old Firm collisions for more than a century, superlatives sometimes hold their value less well than Confederate dollars.

In this fifth round Scottish Cup tie at Ibrox, however, the ancient rivals revived the gold standard.

The sole caveat is that the result was one that few wanted and this season is now guaranteed to see a record total of seven derby clashes between the sides. The replay on Wednesday, March 2 -- a midweek event that exerts no attraction for Glasgow's constabulary -- also adds to a logjam of fixtures for Rangers.

Between now and the rematch, Walter Smith's players have to negotiate two Europa League meetings with Sporting Lisbon, with a league fixture at Celtic Park between times. Rangers were scheduled to play Dundee United at Tannadice on March 3 in a postponed SPL game, for which another date will now have to be found.

What may cause Smith and his backroom to staff to fret even more than the congestion of games ahead of them is the fact that they have now been unable to dispose of Celtic in successive derbies, despite home advantage.

Celtic were behind inside two minutes when El-Hadji Diouf -- on his first start for the Scottish champions -- helped force a corner that was headed out to the unmarked Jamie Ness.

The teenager took a tidy touch before detonating a spectacular strike for his first Rangers goal. Celtic were visibly stunned and should have been further adrift within another two minutes when Nikica Jelavic fed Steven Davis for a rising drive that cracked back off the bar.

There is no guarantee that a 2-0 lead would have proved irretrievable for Celtic but the near-miss spurred them into their first coherent play of the game, during which their nerves were steadied by decent scoring attempts from Beram Kayal and Charlie Mulgrew. Much of the pre-match speculation had focused on Diouf and Celtic's prime January acquisition Kris Commons and neither was overwhelmed by the intensity of the occasion.

Diouf put down early markers with a twist and run that turned Scott Brown inside out. Commons, though, made an even more direct impact on the quarter-hour mark when he checked a run into the box perfectly to meet Joe Ledley's cutback and shoot beyond Allan McGregor for his third goal in as many games -- and all three domestic tournaments -- since joining Celtic eight days previously.

The contest, combative as ever but also garlanded by spells of fine, flowing football, began to yield compelling incident by the minute. Forster almost installed himself in the annals of ridicule when Jelavic tried to exploit the goalkeeper's weakness at kicking by chasing down an awkward pass-back.

Forster's attempted clearance smashed off the advancing Rangers forward, the ball spun towards the goal-line but the 'keeper stopped it in time. His afternoon was, though, about to take a much worse turn.

Left exposed by his defenders at Rangers' next thrust, Forster tumbled Naismith as the forward knocked the ball past him on the break. The consequences were a penalty kick and a red card, plus an immediate dilemma for Neil Lennon, whose decision was that Commons should make way for the incoming Lukasz Zaluska, whose first act was to pick the ball from the net after being sent the wrong way from the spot by Steven Whittaker.

Celtic's prospects looked bleak at the restart but, on the hour, Lennon made the bold decision to remove Kayal from midfield and send on, not his top scorer Anthony Stokes, but instead the man who had scored both his team's goals at Ibrox on January 2.

Georgios Samaras gave direction to Celtic's upfield forays in 4-4-1-1 array, with Gary Hooper playing off his Greek colleague. Within three minutes Celtic were level again when Mark Wilson found Brown in the same area as Ness had been for the opening goal and the Parkhead captain responded with an almost identical drive.


Regrettably, Brown chose to eyeball Diouf by way of celebration, an action for which he was justly cautioned. The seam of incident was far from exhausted and although there were no more goals, Naismith earned his second caution of the game for diving as Daniel Majstorovic approached.

Rangers had been about to replace Diouf and Jelavic with Kyle Lafferty and Vladimir Weiss but decided to go ahead with the substitutions anyway. With both sides reduced in numbers the contest became even more open and Samaras was flagged wrongly for offside when 10 yards clear before a spat between Wilson and Weiss drew 19 of the 20 surviving players into a melee from which Ledley and David Weir emerged with cautions.

The final whistle settled no issues. Each team could yet win everything or nothing -- but the balance seems just to be tipping in Celtic's favour. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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