There was more to Celtic’s pallor though. Over the course of the match most of those in green and white looked out of sorts. For a fair number this would have been their first major cup final – therefore a big occasion for Hooper, Rogne, Ledley, Kayal, Commons, Foster and others. Put simply it may have got to them, or indeed as happens, a collective off day may have been had. I rather suspect Celtic were just getting into their stride when the first goal was lost, and although they were able to quickly get back on terms, simply failed to dominate the midfield for long spells.
As a consequence Celtic were unable to create lasting sequences of meaningful passes which would have penetrated Rangers with the regularity seen in recent encounters. More than that, for much of the first half Neil Lennon’s men were guilty of overcooking things in the final third when a higher tempo was desperately needed. That would, I suspect, have been provided by Ki and one has to wonder if the manager will reflect that a place in the starting XI must be found for our best passer in the games which remain until the end of the season. I would urge him to do so.
There were also issues in defence, where for the first time Rogne – a young man with a big future – seemed uncertain in his actions. Having just come back into the side that – and his clear lack of an understanding with Charlie Mulgrew – was hardly surprising. The presence of a certain strapping Swede of considerable experience would have been of great assistance to the cause and whisper it, but failing to bring in Wilson of Nottingham Forest, or another central defender in January, may prove more than a minor miscalculation.
On top of all this, sad to say, Rangers – on paper a weakened and fragile side — looked by far the hungrier and determined outfit. They hunted down breaks in play, and put their bodies on the line which frustrated Celtic in key areas of the park. Were they the better side? Frankly, on this occasion, yes.
That however has more to do with The Hoops’ shortcomings in the final rather than their ability overall. Nevertheless, Walter Smith and his side will receive the proverbial ‘shot in the arm’ from this fairly unexpected victory. There is one crumb of comfort however: two years ago most observers were convinced Celtic would go on to take the league title after Darren O’Dea and Aiden McGeady’s goals won the same competition after extra time. It was not to be.
So, with that in mind all is to play for in the coming weeks: the double remains well within our grasp, but there’s much work to be done at Lennoxtown, both physically and mentally to get the best out of a squad which will be left hurting by this defeat.