CELTIC 2-0 THE RANGERS
IT was more of a stroll than a humiliation, but the main thing was for Celtic to get the League Cup Final and they achieved that.
Ronny Deila’s men were in cruise control from the 31st minute when Kris Commons added to Leigh Griffiths’ smart opener.
It could have been 5-0 at the interval as the Hoops kept the Ibrox men hemmed in their own half.
However, the runaway favourites took their foot off the gas in the second period and invited their inferior opponents to participate more in the action.
The fact that Craig Gordon didn’t have a single shot to save tells you everything.
Kenny McDowall hoped his team could get a foothold on the game by asking the referee to allow strong challenges to go unpunished, but any pre-game plans were left in tatters in the tenth minute when Celtic grabbed the advantage.
It was all down to speed of thought, fabulous delivery and magnificent finishing.
Mikael Lustig took a quick throw-in on the right not far from the corner flag.
The opposition back lot were still trying to sort themselves out when Stefan Johansen struck an inviting cross with his left foot to the far post.
Griffiths reacted like a penalty box predator as he stormed between Foster and McGregor, launched himself high to get his head to the ball and Simonsen was left helpless as the ball zipped over his fingers into the roof of the net.
As early as the tenth minute, it was obvious the struggling Championship semi-finalists had no Plan B.
They kept veteran Kenny Miller up front on his own and Virgil Van Dijk and Jason Denayer didn’t have to break sweat as they strolled around the scarred Hampden pitch.
The players chorused at the end that the playing surface was “shocking” and we can only hope something will be done about it before next month’s final.It seems that the grossly incompetent SFA struggle to grow grass so maybe they should call on Scotland’s most high profile gardener to take a look at their pitch.
Certainly, the rutted pitch didn’t enhance Celtic’s passing game. It suited the lower league side though.
Seven minutes after the breakthrough goal, Griffiths, who was lively until he was taken off near the end, got in front of the opposing defenders again to get his head on a Lustig cross, but his accuracy was out on this occasion.
In the 27th minute, Anthony Stokes might have hit the target when Griffiths set him up for a drive from the edge of the box.
However, the Irishman’s shot sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Another goal had to come and it duly arrived just after the half-hour mark – and it was a Kris Commons Cracker.
Scott Brown, who deservedly won the Man of the Match award with a typically tenacious display throughout, chased down Nicky Law on the edge of the box.
The ball was prodded in front of Kris Commons, who switched it from right to his left and then fired a mighty whack high beyond Simonsen from 25 yards.
Game over. All that was left for the Rangers support was defiance and bigotry.
Four minutes later, Griffiths had an exceptional opportunity to net a third, but was denied by an abominable decision by referee Craig Thomson.
Brown tangled with Ian Black in the centre circle before slicing open the Ibrox back lot with a superb pass.
Griffiths had the freedom of Hampden as he raced on to it, but Thomson, unfathomably, blew his whistle to award a foul to Celtic.
Another match official who obviously hasn’t heard of the advantage rule? Or maybe it was just an honest mistake?
Either way, it thwarted the Hoops of an almost certain third goal which would undoubtedly have brought their opponents to their knees.
Four minutes later, Van Dijk missed a sitter from just about under the crossbar when he connected with a left-wing Stokes corner-kick.
The classy Dutchman outmuscled the defenders to get into the ideal position smack in front of goal and, inexplicably, sent a header flying over the crossbar.
He slumped to the ground in full realisation the ball should have been nestling behind Simonsen.
And five minutes from the interval, the energetic, thrusting Johansen timed his run into the box excellently and was left with only the keeper to beat.
Remarkably, the Norwegian rushed his shot and blasted it against Simonsen who went down more in hope than expectation. The ball struck his leg and rebounded to safety.
The Ibrox goalie was brought quickly into action a minute after the turnaround when Commons seized on a free-kick rebound to fire in a low drive.
Simonsen got down to parry the shot and then dive on it to clear the danger.
And he was scrambling again shortly afterwards when a 30-yard free-kick from Griffiths whistled past his left hand post.
The Celtic supporters in the crowd of 50,925 sat back and expected a landslide scoreline.
The Hoops slowed the tempo, however, and the game lost its shape as Celtic failed to match the goal tally reached by Alloa against the Ibrox side.
There was still little for Gordon to do and the contest became a bit of a midfield scrap on a disgraceful playing surface.
However, the fans and the players were howling at the match official again in the 57th minute when Stokes sent a massive clearance downfield from the edge of his own penalty box.
Griffiths took chase alongside the retreating Black. The Celt used his speed to get in first, but was thwarted when Black managed to shin the ball back to his keeper from just outside the box.
Onlookers may have thought the Celts were claiming a penalty-kick, but it was clear passback from Black and, therefore, a free-kick in a dangerous area in the penalty box.
Thomson waved play on. Another strange decision. No matter, though, because Deila’s men were in charge, especially with Brown putting down markers all over the pitch.
John Guidetti came on for the hard-working Griffiths in the 69th minute and was looking for his first goal since last November in the Scottish Cup win over Hearts.
The Swede is still looking. Obviously, the frontman who played with such a swagger and netted 11 goals in 16 games is low on confidence.
James Forrest, on for Stokes, brought the fans to their feet with a delightful run as he cut a swathe through the Ibrox defence.
However, the ball took a bobble at a crucial moment and his finishing effort flashed towards the stand.
The tie could not finish without another puzzling decision from referee Thomson.
Lee McCulloch, lucky not to be booked for an elbow assault in the back of Griffiths’ head after an aerial challenge, fouled, first, Guidetti and then Brown on the edge of the box. Had to be a free-kick? Correct. To Rangers. Utterly mystifying.
The Compliance Officer at the SFA should be asked to take another look at the assault on Leigh Griffiths by McCulloch.
Five players were yellow-carded for a variety of offences – Celtic’s Griffiths (for scoring), Lustig and Brown and the opposition’s Foster and Kyle Hutton.
At the end, the Celtic players and manager took a bow in front of their joyous fans.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig (sub: Matthews 84), Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Bitton, Brown; Johansen, Commons, Stokes (sub: Forrest 74); Griffiths (sub: Guidetti 69).