There’s something about early kick-offs; cold weather and forgone conclusions that can conspire to temper the sense of occasion of even the biggest derby in the world at times. And that’s exactly what we got yesterday.
This was another excellent win for Celtic against our one-time fierce rivals, but few will remember this latest drubbing with the affection of the great 6-2 of 2000 or the 3-0 Celtic win at Ibrox in 2001. That’s not a criticism of the team and any mention of the slightly subdued atmosphere at Parkhead during the game is no slight directed at the support. Neither Celtic nor the crowd came close to getting out of second gear, simply because there was no need.
Our starting personnel was unchanged from the CIS Cup victory of 10 days ago. McLeish had shuffled his pack as seems to be his fetish. In came Waterreus, Andrews, Hemdani and Jeffers for Klos, Rodriguez, Bernard & Stevie Thompson. This corespondent was shaking in his snakeskin boots.
The match started poorly with neither side playing particularly well or with much real cohesion. Possession was given away frivolously by both sides and although defences looked somewhat creaky, neither team could capitalise by applying any real pressure. Indeed, in the first 45 minutes, Rangers had the better of the half chances. Mercurial Englishman Francis Jeffers fired wide from 20 yards out after finding room to get a shot away. To be fair to Jeffers though, 20 yards is asking a bit much of the Fox.
Next was the chance of the half for Rangers when good play down the right flank resulted in a cross finding Murray Park product and Ibrox pariah Hamed Namouchi standing free between Telfer and Balde. The Tunisian’s impressive angled header downwards was a yard misdirected and the ball went out of play for a goal kick.
Dado Prso had a shot from outside the box sail high over into the stand and then Barry Ferguson was stopped in his tracks by the alert Boruc after some sleepy defending by Stephen McManus.
The breakthrough for Celtic came after only 12 minutes. This was our only real chance of the 1st half and it couldn’t have been simpler. The tired looking Shunsuke Nakamura seized possession of a loose ball which he then slipped to the Shaun Maloney. Maloney squared to an unmarked John Hartson to tap home. "Easy, Easy, Easy," was the chant from the supporters. Apt.
The remainder of Celtic’s first half performance was lethargic in many ways but again we displayed indications of just how good a patient, passing side we are becoming by keeping the ball for long spells.
The second half began with Celtic looking sharper than we had prior to the break and with Rangers reverting to type. A horrendous Marvin Andrews tackle from behind on Shaun Maloney looked very bad for the Scotland internationalist. As Maloney left the field on a stretcher the Rangers support sang the praises of Andrews who was lucky only to receive a booking. Thankfully Maloney managed to come back on for a further ten minutes before being replaced so hopefully his injury isn’t too serious.
By this point Celtic were starting to show what we could do and wouldn’t be denied. A beautiful flowing front to back offensive move was thwarted only by a desperate last gasp Ricksen tackle. Then Nakamura, who appeared to have a second wind by now, turned Ian Murray inside out before delivering a beautiful cross for Bobo Balde to glance home, killing the match.
The effervescent Aiden McGeady was next on the scoresheet, receiving his just reward for an excellent afternoon’s work. Stilian Petrov crossed for McGeady to volley home and although the finish seemed to lack power, it somehow squirmed through the hands of the Rangers ‘keeper. McGeady wasn’t complaining and he went on to be rightly awarded Man of The Match.
From that point the game was well and truly over. Had the likes of Petrov and Nakamura not had such heavy midweek exertions I have no doubt Celtic would have pushed on but, job done, possession and containment was now the order of the day. There was no sign of any fight left in the Rangers team by this point and, as the game fizzled out, those Rangers fans remaining in the ground began to sing and dance in a display of loyalty which could only be described as dignity made manifest. It reminded me a little bit of the Tartan Army.
Today we underlined our superiority over Rangers in every department while playing very much within ourselves. For us things are on the up. The bears know all about their troubles.
Boruc - 6
Telfer - 6
Camara - 6
Balde - 6
McManus - 6
Lennon - 7
Petrov - 6
Nakamura - 6
McGeady - 8
Maloney - 7
Hartson - 6
Thompson - 5
Agathe - 3