Tactically, for the second week running, a manager who is thoughtful and unpredictable with his team selection, made a blunder. Whereas last week the graceful strides of Samaras were missed on the vast spaces of the bobbly, Hampden turf, at Ibrox the side were set up simply to negate the opposition as opposed to attacking them without any fear. Aluko, a direct player of limited ability, was made to look like a wizard because he was allowed a free role. In contrast, the five man midfield of Celtic instantly exposed what would happen throughout the first half an hour. With brown being a player of endeavour, the creativity would be down to samaras on the left. There was no alternative, and it seemed predictable.
Defensively, those who called for Wilson to be dropped were rewarded, but this created a further imbalance. Matthews, a player who has struggled for form in recent weeks, was played out of position not to accommodate Cha, but for Mulgrew to partner Rogne. With the choice between Cha and Lustig at right-back, the one with the higher level of match fitness was chosen. Hindsight is all too easy to refer to, but was Matthews a better option than either Emilio or Ledley?
From the 29th minute onwards, the two teams were even. With the extra player, Rangers looked less threatening and possession was even. Arguably, taking Stokes off was another mistake. Bringing Emilio on was vital, yet sacrificing Ki, Wanyama or Ledley could have seen Samaras as an outball on the left, with Stokes feeding off any scraps. As it was, the Greek was isolated, despite his flashes of sheer brilliance. Any doubts about his ability, temperament and form this season should be vanquished. He is a contender for player of the season, without any question. The beauty of his masquerading run in the first half was only matched by the absurdity of Stokes’ tame volley into the ground, although this was rectified moments later.
If Neil Lennon could have set his team out differently, Callum Murray could have used his eyes differently, by opening them. It is easy to attach culpability at match officials in the aftermath of defeat, but he was feeble. More so the simple decisions, such as the non-fouls given to Samaras, but the game changer was Cha’s needless dismissal. Contact was minimal, yet Murray could not wait to flash the red card. In addition, Mulgrew could arguably have reached the ball if Wallace had have shot for goal.
Wanyama’s was a sending off. Still images do suggest that Whittaker had actually made the worse contact, but without the benefit of replays it looked like a naïve and nasty challenge. Winning the ball is a flaccid argument when your feet are raised off the ground, but it grates when you compare this challenge to both McCulloch’s and Healy’s at the corresponding fixture in December.
The title party that could have been instead morphed into a show of defiance from both sides. To celebrate reducing the points deficit to a mere eighteen points shows how pitifully far the debt ridden side of Glasgow have fallen, and to continue cheering after being beaten for the second time in a season by your most fiercest rivals shows that Celtic fans know what is about to happen, both on and off the pitch. Their moment of glory will forever be intertwined with the corruption and cheating that permeated the last two decades of their success. It could have been the perfect revenge to win the league at Ibrox, it could yet be the sweetest taste dining at the demise of a decaying club.