By Ryan Fleming
There are times when derbies become dull, rather apathetic — never living up to their expectations. Then, there are others that absolutely rejuvenate a rivalry. In yesterday’s Old Firm derby, the quarter final of the Scottish Cup, Celtic came out on top again, 1-0, but not before both teams showed that their dislike for each other is stronger than ever.
This game highlighted a few things.
First – Rangers are as baffled as ever. At least when they play Celtic. With all the injuries Walter Smith’s side has had to deal with, the Gers physically took out their frustrations because they haven’t been able to compete with Celtic on the field. Following Steven Whiittaker’s sending off 36 minutes in, handicapping Rangers even further, Madjid Bougherra and company put the club further behind. Capping it all off was Celtic enemy No. 1, El Hadji Diouf. Since his arrival from Blackburn, Diouf seems to always be at the center of attention when the two teams meet. Diouf gave the Celic supporters a reason to chant and at the end, and had to be escorted off the field following run-ins with both Neil Lennon and referee Calum Murray.
Rangers obviously have a glowing chance at still capturing the league, biding any further injuries or league slip-ups and that will go a long way in deflating the Hoops’ spirits, which are right now amongst the clouds.
Second – This really isn’t a big deal. If anything, like Hearts manager Jim Jefferies called it, the game was “good for the Scottish game.” I agree.
With a league in turmoil and falling further and further behind, the SPL needs to bring attention to it. Jefferies went on to state that the game wasn’t a disaster and that “it will show around the world how much it means when Celtic and Rangers play.” Jefferies brings up a good point. People often dismiss the Old Firm as being a rivalry of the past and nothing related to the here and now. Yesterday’s brouhaha shows that the rivalry is anything but and if you support either side, you’re fully engulfed when these teams meet — already circling and making plans for the final time the sides meet in the Co-Operative Insurance Cup Final on March 20th — incredibly just two short weeks away.
Third: The league means everything, every run-up between then is just foreplay. Yes, that’s right. It’s a cup. A cup win doesn’t mean you qualify automatically for Europe, well at least not in Scotland. Thankfully, for the Scottish police who recently called for a dramatic change in both venue and attitude for both the Old Firm sides, these two only meet once more. Let’s not kid ourselves, whoever wins on the 20th will be thrilled, but the main objective is the league. Right now the pressure is on the crippled Rangers who are five points behind but hold two games in hand.
One slip-up by either side will certainly spell total disaster. When Celtic fell to hapless Motherwell, 2-0 last Sunday, the Gers were undoubtedly laughing while the Hoops faithful remained optimistic the team would use it as a lesson and learn from their mistake immediately.
If anything, Wednesday’s match doesn’t portray that Celtic are on their way to a SPL title or that Rangers are totally done for. What it does mean is that the two teams rivalry is renewed, the world now knows and that the other is waiting for a muff from the either side to walk another step closer to the title.