Saturday 18 November 2017

Jelavic lands final blow as Rangers go the extra yard

Celtic 1
Rangers 2
(after extra-time)
Scottish league Cup Final

Celtic manager Neil Lennon shouts to his players from the Hampden Park stand. Photo: Reuters
Celtic manager Neil Lennon shouts to his players from the Hampden Park stand. Photo: Reuters

Roddy Forsyth

The most telling moment of this final was to be witnessed, not in any instance of open play or contentious incident but after the 90 minutes of regulation time had come and gone.

Having lost a demanding Europe League tie against PSV Eindhoven less than 72 hours earlier, Rangers looked as though they were only just hanging on to the ropes as full time approached with the score tied at 1-1.

The odds favoured Celtic to prevail during the added period, but in the brief remission before the extra half-hour, six of their players lolled on the turf to ease their weary limbs. Gregg Wylde, the teenager who had forced his way into the Rangers side with his display against PSV, would have done the same but Walter Smith spotted his intention.

A sharp word from the Rangers manager saw Wylde snap back to attention. It was a little touch of Smith in the final, an insistence -- born of 30 years of coaching experience -- that for his players to summon the ultimate effort, the exercise had to begin in their minds.

The product of this wisdom was delivered eight minutes into overtime when Glenn Loovens -- sent on late in the second half for Thomas Rogne -- fouled Vladimir Weiss on the halfway line.

Celtic, who had been in possession in the Rangers half, switched off as the ball was rolled back.

Weiss did not, nor did Nikica Jelavic, who accepted his colleague's quickly taken free-kick, got goalside of Joe Ledley, drew Fraser Forster from his goal and curled his shot around the advancing goalkeeper.

In keeping with the sense that this occasion was destined to hang in the balance as long as possible, the ball spun out from the base of the post, then looped gently back across the goalmouth and over the line just inside the opposite upright, despite Emilio Izaguirre's desperate attempt to intercept.

Even with their advantage restored Rangers were there for the taking by a team with equivalent determination and legs with spring in them.

But Celtic -- and this will be the subject of intense self-examination by manager Neil Lennon, his staff and his players -- were not that team on this day and this occasion.

Rangers got the advantage they craved midway through the first half when a Charlie Mulgrew clearance fell to Steven Davis, midway inside Celtic territory.

Ledley tracked the Rangers midfielder as he strode forward but could not prevent Davis from delivering a shot which skimmed off Forster's glove and then the post, before skipping over the line.

This poked Celtic into an immediacy which had been lacking from the play and their equaliser arrived in sprightly fashion within seven minutes.


Izaguirre despatched an appetising cross, Georgios Samaras glanced it on and Ledley, breaking perfectly from midfield, headed into the gap between Neil Alexander and his left hand post.

Celtic's supporters were reassured, Rangers deeply alarmed.

Both sides had penalty shouts turned down before the match went to extra-time but it is all immaterial as Rangers have their prize and Celtic have no complaints, other than to wonder how they could have become so ragged in the last few seconds that Izaguirre was sent off for taking down Weiss without the slightest attempt to get the ball as the Rangers man was about to bolt into the unguarded Hoops half.

Still, after the furore which attended the most recent meeting of these sides in the Scottish Cup, it was pleasing to see the Rangers players clap their opponents to the podium at then end.

By Old Firm standards it was, as the estimable Kenny Everett character would have pronounced, all in the best possible taste. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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