In what was a snowy CIS semi-final fixture at the national stadium Rangers booked their place in the final with a 2 – 0 victory over St Johnstone thanks to goals from the Steven Davis and Lee McCullough.
Lee McCulloch drives home Rangers' second goal.
It was great to see striker Stevie Naismith return to first team action as a second half substitute replacement for Nacho Novo
. Although still short of full match fitness and the form the young striker showed before his injury lay off, Naismith put himself about enough to make an impact against the Saints defence which included winning a penalty 20 minutes from time. However the resulting spot kick which Naismith stepped up to take himself was saved by ex Rangers goalie Graeme Smith
, not to worry though as it was pretty much job done by that point anyway.
With the CIS Cup final date looming at Hampden Park against St Mirren next month Manager Walter Smith and his team will now be hoping to make amends for last year's League Cup final defeat to rivals Celtic, which impressively is the only domestic cup tie the Ibrox boss has lost since returning to Ibrox hot seat for a second spell in January 2007.
The Cup competition continued in the form of the Active Nation Scottish Cup three days later in Paisley against St Mirren which resulted in a 0 – 0 draw. Not the best performance from Rangers this season, certainly not the worst either but credit to St Mirren who tested the resolve of the Rangers back four and keeper Alan McGregor.
Rangers will be hoping to cruise into the Scottish Cup quarter-finals after tomorrow evenings fifth round replay at Ibrox, a tie which should be easier to bury once and for all playing in front of a home crowd and having red hot strikers Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller back in the first eleven; both who have made their comebacks from injury in recent weeks.
So cup competitions seem to be taking care of themselves albeit with a replay still to play against St Mirren…meantime the last two league fixtures have been proving to be somewhat controversial at times!
It all started with the league match up against Craig Brown’s Motherwell side at Fir Park which resulted in a 1 – 1 all draw. Walter Smith’s men found themselves a goal down thanks to Tom ‘isn’t it ironic’ Hateley (son of former Rangers legend Mark) who bagged his first goal in senior football with a stunning free kick on 28 minutes which left Gers left Keeper Alan McGregor with no chance as the ball floated in to the top left hand corner.
The ‘controversial moment’ came on 54 minutes after the home side were denied a perfectly legitimate second goal on the night. Irony striking twice in the form of young Tom Hateley's free-kick which was met by Well defender Stephen Craigan, whose effort seemed to be on route to goal but was helped over the line by striker Ross Forbes who was judged to be offside – despite television pictures appearing to show him onside.
Craig Brown certainly thought both Forbes and Craigan were onside when ESPN’s Darrel Currie raised the point in his post match interview with the newly appointed Motherwell boss – have a look for yourself there’s not much wrong with Brown’s assessment other than his oh so very wrong and delusional survey over the state of the Fir Park pitch.
It was Kris Boyd who salvaged a point for the SPL Champions with 10 minutes left on the clock the Gers no# 9 collected a cross from the left from defender Sasa Papac and latched on to the ball inside the six-yard box past Well keeper John Ruddy.
Kris Boyd celebrates his late leveller for Rangers at Motherwell
All in all not the most convincing performance from Walter Smiths side and perhaps lucky to get a point but it’s a pattern that makes up the current mode of Rangers resilience and championship winning form, especially significant as rivals Celtic beat Hearts 2 – 0 which closed the gap then to eight points.
The interim period between the next set of Old Firm league fixtures led to riotous rants on phone in-s and newspaper hotlines up and down the country ‘discussing’ the apparent bias shown towards Rangers, and in a separate argument from fans outside the Old Firm, how as a collective both the Old Firm enjoy ‘special treatment’ when it comes to ‘big match decisions’ in the Scottish game.
It didn’t stop there!
The texts and e-mails came flying in too and it was followed by claims of the ‘Establishment’ being against Celtic too on a number of levels – I was in disbelief when I heard this particular caller on what I think was a BBC Radio Scotland or Clyde 1FM phone in (there was a lot to take in hence my memory being a tad hazy!).
So, the Green half of Celtic were left a tad reeling after the Motherwell match as the Steelmen were denied a clear second goal. Now if you’re not familiar with Glasgow’s sporting culture, there is a sub culture that exists within which is openly described as ‘Celtic Paranoia’ by Sports Hacks and rivals fans up and down the country. If ever there was a case of the above said paranoia then surely this was it?
Over the course of a season such controversial decisions be it an offside goal, goal line clearance or a penalty decision etc. will all balance out. I genuinely believe that and one must believe that (otherwise one could well go nuts!) until Football like its Oval shaped cousin introduces a Video Replay system to correct what is human error, after all Ref’s are only human aren’t they?!?
Former Man In Black Stuart Dougal recently gave his backing to introducing TV Evidence to the Scottish Game in the press or at the very least introducing it as an experiment in say next year’s Scottish Cup.
A grand idea as it seems to work for Rugby when a decision goes ‘upstairs’ for analysis, however without the backing of FIFA or UEFA I don’t think it’s going to take off anytime soon. Which makes you question why the two governing bodies haven’t as of yet introduced such a system.
Of course there is many a conspiracy theory thrown at the top dogs who govern World and European football, the most notable one being that both bodies converge to ensure the ‘top dogs’ as such always make the finals of major events, just ask the Irish…but let’s leave that one right there.
Next was the turn of the Blue Half of Glasgow to get a tad miffed over newspaper reports that ex-Celt Aberdeen Manager Mark McGhee might be resting some of his top team players in last weekend’s match up against Celtic at Pittodrie. As my opposite number and good friend ESPN Celtic Correspondent, Sean Graham points out in his latest article, Rangers fans called the phone in-s in disgust once they had picked up the Saturday morning papers in Scotland.
The notion of Mark McGhee doing Celtic a favour was far off the mark as the Aberdeen performance and end result suggests coupled McGhee’s post match comments of walking up the Byres being able to face both sets of Old Firm fans. Taking professionalism into account as well as McGhee no doubt wanting to show the Celtic board of his managerial prowess (after all he was overlooked for the Celtic Manager’s post last summer) was there any ever doubt that Aberdeen would do the Tic a favour?
Aberdeen now play FIVE times a season and some...
In what as a thrilling 90 minutes at Pittodrie, a game which Celtic lead 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and finally 4-2 until Aberdeen fought back to earn a 4 – 4 all draw much to the distraught of Celtic manager Tony Mowbray and to the delight of Rangers fans who were watching the match live on ESPN.
Ex-Ger Steven MacLean grabs an equaliser two minutes from time to secure a 4-4 draw.
Rangers had a Sunday Valentines Date with ex-Celt John ‘Yogi’ Hughes Hibs side at Ibrox stadium, a win against the current third best side in Scottish football would reinstate a ten point gap at the top of the table against Celtic.
A convincing second half display and three second half goals from Steven Whittaker, Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller ensured that Rangers took all three points on offer and once again opened up a ten point gap at the summit of the SPL Table. That’s now 10 goals for Whittaker this season not bad for a fullback eh? And 21 and 15 goals for Boyd and Miller respectively, I’m especially impressed KM’s goal tally this season so far especially as he’s more so a provider for the prolific Boydy.
Steven Whittaker slots home for Rangers to get the scoring underway against Hibernian.
I would still proceed with caution with regards to the Title race something that Walter, Ally and Kenny MD will all being doing as such a deficit has been reduced before in previous SPL campaigns but it looks increasingly likely that the Gers are on course for back to back SPL Titles not that the Rangers playing staff are taking anything for granted.
Speaking to Sky Sports after Sundays match against Hibs, Man of the Match Steven Whittaker said:
''We won't take anything for granted. We've got a lead but it's important we just keep picking up points.''
At the risk of tempting fate I pretty much expect Rangers to progress to the next round of the Scottish Cup tomorrow night not that Gus MacPherson’s St Mirren will be a push over, he’s built a good side and has got his men playing some good attractive football but I expect Rangers to take full advantage of playing at home.
League business continues next Saturday as Rangers travel to Perth to face St Johntsone and some eight days later Rangers face their bitter rivals Celtic at Ibrox Stadium. It’s the first time Rangers will face TM’s new look Celtic foreign legion side who in all honestly must win the match in order to have any real chance in clawing back Rangers tentative lead at the top of the SPL Table.
The pressures definitely on TM at the moment as Rangers could easily afford to draw this match where a defeat for Celtic will heap yet more pressure on the Celtic manager.
The pressure cooker may well be boiling over in TM’s office at Celtic Park just now, even if it is a successful season at Ibrox, the summer time will prove quite testing as many players as out of contract, a new buyer is yet to be found to ease the clubs debts all of which Walter Smith has forewarned fans recently, an exit strategy perhaps? Could you blame him?
Only time will tell…and well that will be dealt (hopefully) nearer the time.
Oh and Marc-Antoine Fortuné’s recent comments about Rangers lacking bottle…I seem to remember a similar comment coming from Georgio Samaras last season and what was it that wee Nach Novo sang at last year’s title party, ‘Oh Ah Samaras Say Oh Ah Samaras’…
Glass Houses Bhoy’s Glass Houses…the talking should ALWAYS be done ON the pitch not off it.
Meantime ‘keep aff the grass’ and enjoy your football folks.
Dated 16th February 2010.
Keep up to date with the Blue Half of Glasgow via ESPN’s Soccernet Rangers Homepage and Club Blog.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Active Nation Scottish Cup
Rangers v St Mirren, Round 5 Replay, Kick-off 19:45
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
St Johnstone v Rangers, Kick-off 12:45
Sunday, 28 February 2010
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Rangers v Celtic, Kick-off 12:30.
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