The Hampden image that will haunt Michael Beale's Rangers after more Celtic success

By John McGinley

May 1, 2023

The goal Celtic scored at Hampden against Rangers came in a flash of excitement and confusion but it was no surprise that two people in the entire stadium of 50,000 souls were more switched on than everyone else to take advantage.

From the start of Ange Postecoglou’s reign at the Bhoys the ‘never stop’ mantra has been a favourite of the Celtic support. Once mocked by rivals, then celebrated by the faithful and now looked at as almost a cliche – it remains an identifier of this successful side and it continues to bamboozle our opponents.

Rewatching highlights of Jota’s header is one thing, but when you look at the still image of everyone’s position when Matt O’Riley seemed to have been fouled it is truly remarkable that the Bhoys managed to score just a few seconds later.

The same old story in recent contests between Celtic and Rangers

Three, potentially four, Rangers players are closer to the ball than any upright Celt, their defensive line is set and goalkeeper Allan McGregor is probably thinking the ball is about to go up the other end of the pitch. So that they were caught out again by Celtic’s quick thinking, skill and movement will be a sore point of contention in any review or analysis sessions at Auchenhowie.

This was an issue for Rangers under Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Who can forget Liel Abada ghosting in behind their defenders to score? It remains a big issue under Michael Beale. So when they talk of belief in beating Celtic, getting closer to Postecoglou’s team and showing us the ‘real’ Rangers, it’s important to remember they aren’t fixing some of their biggest errors. That must be what is most difficult to take for their team and their support.

In the coming weeks, if the reaction to their 3-2 defeat at Celtic Park is anything to go by, it seems predictable that they will try to stifle discussion of Celtic’s dominance of this fixture by suggesting these mistakes are easily fixed. But it’s also important to remember that Sunday’s goal was no fluke and that our manager specifically drills his players to be alert to situations such as this.

Maeda did not care about a potential foul being given, he had laser-focus on the ball. Jota knew that he could slip past James Tavernier because he wasn’t ball-watching either. The goal is as much a reflection of Celtic’s ruthlessness as it is of Rangers’ failings. And that will be hard for anyone in Scotland to stop.

Every day that they consider a full rebuild Celtic are working hard on their own improvement. We aren’t standing still. We aren’t at the level we want to be, despite significant success. As Postecoglou noted post-match, we’re actually getting better. That’s not easy for anyone across the city to take, but it remains as true as the flight of the crossed ball that sweetly landed on Jota’s head.

In other news, Celtic scouts attend high-stakes Greek derby as Levi Garcia asking price is reported.