Derby overload root cause of Old Firm venom
Juggle a flask of nitroglycerine for long enough and you can scarcely be surprised when it detonates.
The same principle applies to Old Firm derbies -- and this season, there will be seven episodes of Glasgow's perpetual internecine strife.
Prior to Wednesday's Scottish Cup replay, the teams had already exhausted their usual quota of confrontations. Tensions had begun to accumulate, and burst their bounds in the closing minutes at Parkhead.
For a start, a pattern was emerging, one of a hard-fought but remorseless transfer of power from Rangers to Celtic.
Second, the sheer accumulation of such encounters -- three in four weeks -- is liable to generate feuds at any grade of sport, never mind in a tribal grudge match with 123 years of history loaded on to its shoulders.
Third, the financial impositions imposed by Lloyds TSB to claw back Rangers' debt -- which amounts to around £25m -- has forced Smith to shave his squad to the point where he could not field 11 recognised first- team regulars in midweek. Three of his starting XI against Celtic were loan signings.
Finally, the mix of Rangers' desperation at their slumping status and Celtic's triumphalism -- they have now won three and drawn one of this season's five confrontations, two of the victories in the last fortnight -- is turbo-charged by the intensity of the atmosphere in which these occasions are played out.
Nothing in Britain -- not even a rabid Merseyside derby or the spiteful competition between Liverpool and Manchester United -- generates euphoria as astounding as that witnessed at Celtic Park a fortnight ago when Lennon's players swept majestically to a 3-0 rout of their bedraggled rivals.
Walter Smith's men were much more resolute on Wednesday and at 1-0 the contest remained in issue until the final whistle, but the statistics tell another tale -- possession by 61pc to 39pc in favour of Celtic, who had four shots on target to none for Rangers.
Had the game finished on the 90-minute mark, by which point only Steven Whittaker had been sent off, the evening would not have seemed unduly eventful.
Referee Callum Murray, though, added five minutes, during which Madjid Bougherra was also dismissed and the temperature rose sharply.
The final whistle merely signalled a degrading encore at the tunnel, where Lennon and Ally McCoist, Smith's anointed successor as Ibrox manager, had to be pulled apart.
Rangers' loan signing El-Hadji Diouf, meanwhile, excoriated the referee, was sent off, refused to leave the pitch and threw his shirt into the crowd over the head of an advancing senior police officer.
Diouf has, in general, been more restrained than might have been expected since he came to Scotland in January, but an Old Firm derby was always likely to tip him over the precipice whose brink he treads habitually.
Had the referee signalled time at the end of the regulation period we might -- just might -- have avoided the aftermath.
However, Murray extended the contest because Sasa Papac, the Rangers defender who survived a car crash that left him with serious head injuries five years ago, was concussed when Mark Wilson scored the winning goal. The sight of Papac being taken off on a stretcher prompted the thought that oblivion was the best destination for this game.
There is no chance of that -- especially now that Scotland's politicians have latched on to a spectacle almost as unedifying as they sometimes present themselves. (© Daily Telegraph, London)