Monday, November 29, 2021
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The latest football news from 90 Minutes Online

The Old Firm Get Reunited

Scottish Cup logoJust when you thought it was safe to yawn your way through the remaining Scottish football fixtures until the close season, Celtic and Rangers were paired in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup.


In the simple act of two balls being removed from a bag, the season has unexpectedly sprung to life, and sports journalists north of the border will be wringing their hands with glee, with ridiculously excessive column inches devoted to next month’s clash all but guaranteed. 



Much of what is written will be tedious, of course, but such is the void within the lives of many devoted to either half of the Old Firm since Rangers’ financial collapse four years ago, each and every word will be devoured and argued over time and again.


Suddenly the re-emergence of Aberdeen as a potential challenger to Celtic will be far less interesting or newsworthy, and Hearts’ continued progress following their recent flirtation with administration will be banished to obscurity.  On a more positive front, it will possibly help numb the pain associated with the national side’s absence from the European championships this summer, if even just for a short while.


Prepare to be assaulted by hyperbole on a scale we haven’t seen or heard since, well, the last time the two clubs locked horns.  In fairness, this particular season will benefit from the match in general – Celtic’s march to the Premiership title has been less than enthralling (talk about falling over the finish line) and Rangers have virtually sealed their all- too predictable and sometimes pedestrian return to the top flight with several matches remaining.


As we’ve come to expect, the clubs themselves have initially sought to play down the importance of the match itself, but who are they kidding?  They can insist that they won’t even be thinking about the game until closer to the time, but we know better than that.  We know that the opportunity to put one over the other lot will actually be occupying most of their thinking time for the next month or so, which is just as well given it’s all everyone will be talking about!


For Rangers boss Mark Warburton, it ensures that the march to the Championship title doesn’t become a damp squib, with players and fans alike turning their attention to their summer holidays long before a ball is finally kicked in anger.  It also affords the opportunity to test his side’s progress this year, while offering an insight into whether the gulf between the sides is as vast as has been claimed in certain quarters.


Celtic boss Ronny Deila will also welcome the draw, given he has recently attracted a fair amount of criticism from the fans over his team’s insipid performances, including much speculation over his future at the club beyond this summer.  The flip side of that, of course, is that he has much to lose in this cup tie, in the sense that if Rangers were to reach the final at the expense of their great rivals it would surely put paid to his chances of retaining his job.  Deila is simply expected to win, and win handsomely, and nothing less will suffice in the eyes of Celtic fans.


The clubs met last season in the semi-final of the League Cup, with Celtic winning a one-sided game with consummate ease.  Only their own profligacy in front of goal prevented what should have been an embarrassing score line for the blue half of Glasgow that day. It also cemented the suspicion at that point that Rangers were some distance from posing any serious challenge to Celtic’s dominance of the Scottish game.


The obvious question now is whether, 12 months on, Rangers can expect to make a game of it this time around.  Certainly they have looked particularly convincing at Ibrox, perhaps less so on their travels.  Mark Warburton’s signings to date may not exactly have been the high-profile sort once enjoyed by Rangers, but they have proved to be significantly more effective than those recruited under former boss Ally McCoist, who had tended towards the more familiar (and expensive) names within the Scottish game, singularly failing to propel the club’s rehabilitation in a meaningful way. 


Not that Rangers are back to the level of four and more years ago, of course – much investment will be required to get even remotely close to that. But there is a general consensus that the club would be able to at least hold its own within the top flight next term, if not quite troubling the teams at the top end of the league.


Across the city, Celtic may continue to lead the way at the top of the league, but they have been far from convincing of late, and for all their drop in quality in recent seasons hasn’t been so dramatic as Rangers’, there is little doubt that Deila’s repeated claim to be making progress has become increasing hollow if not downright nonsensical. Especially when given the team’s dismal performances in Europe this season, and clear reduction in the gap (in terms of points and level of performance) between them and the other sides at the top of the division.



All things considered, it does suggest a closer Old Firm clash this time might just be in the offing.  Until then, hold on tight – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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