With their place in the Scottish Cup final in May now secured after the comfortable win over Rangers at Hampden, the focus for Brendan Rodgers and his Treble-chasing squad returned to the Premiership, with the five post-split fixtures to be addressed.
As widely predicted, the two key decisions by referee Don Robertson towards the end of Celtic’s previous League game in Dingwall had been retrospectively reviewed, Ross County striker Alex Schalk offered and accepting a two-match ban for simulation and Scott Brown’s red card downgraded to a yellow. Whilst justice, to some extent, had been seen to be done by arriving at the correct decisions eventually, there still remained a huge degree of frustration that these had been missed in the first instance.
Indeed, Schalk was the second player to receive such a retrospective ban for his actions against Celtic that season. As far back as the opening day of the League campaign, Hearts winger Jamie Walker had taken a blatant dive in the box at Tynecastle, referee John Beaton falling over himself to award the kick which Walker himself took, rubbing salt into the wound by equalising from the spot.
Fortunately that day, Scott Sinclair had snatched a late winner, meaning that at least Beaton’s honest mistake had not cost Celtic any points. Walker was subsequently offered and served the same two-game ban handed out to Schalk, albeit he had made an unsuccessful appeal pleading his innocence.
In this most recent case, the Ross County striker’s now-acknowledged cheating had cost Celtic two points, and whilst he would serve a suspension against teams not now impacting on our destiny, in another scenario those games could have been against the Hoops’ title rivals in a tight flag race. Further, there was little or no evidence to suggest that Don Robertson would be facing any kind of reprimand or punishment for making such a basic and obvious refereeing error. “There’s something not quite right wrong with this system,” as my dad used to say, God rest him.
Scott Brown’s revised sentence, a yellow card for “recklessly dangerous play,” whilst better than the original red, had still taken him over the disciplinary threshold, invoking an automatic two-game suspension. This would kick in two weeks after the final caution had been awarded (Sunday, 16 April 2017), meaning that the Celtic captain was available for the weekend trip to Ibrox but would miss the forthcoming fixtures against St Johnstone and Aberdeen.
Brendan Rodgers made only one, enforced change to his Hampden line-up, Leigh Griffiths replacing the injured Moussa Dembele, for the short journey to Govan. The teams emerged to a thunderous roar and the strains of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best,” surely the world’s most misplaced stadium anthem.
The Bhoys would show once again where the power lay in Glasgow in the third millennium, dominating proceedings from the outset. There was a glorious chance for Celtic within two minutes, Scott Sinclair’s sublime flick sending Callum MacGregor scampering clear into the Rangers box. With the restored Griffiths screaming for the pass on the penalty spot for a tap-in, the midfielder chose to shoot, the wrong option, as Clint Hill’s desperate lunge blocked both his effort and Sinclair’s follow-up. A huge let-off for the home side, with Griffiths not missing his young colleague with a verbal tirade.
At this stage, I was still queuing outside the Free Broomloan with my daughter, trying to gauge what was happening from the shouts of the crowd. We finally gained access and emerged at the top of the stairs, just in time to see Sinclair lining up to take a penalty at the far end. TV would later confirm that the award was given thanks to Myles Beerman’s crazy lunge on Patrick Roberts, as the Celtic winger moved away from goal on the Main Stand side.
Thus, for the second time in six days, Sinclair faced Wes Foderingham from 12 yards, the Celt winning the previous joust at Hampden, albeit only just, his countryman getting a despairing hand to the shot but failing to stop it cross the line. Foderingham went the same way again, however, this time the Celtic forward elected to slot the ball low into the opposite corner, and the Bhoys were ahead within seven minutes. There’s a disgraceful moment which is captured on camera in the aftermath, a Rangers supporter behind the goal making monkey gestures as the Celtic players celebrate. Scandalous and, to the best of my knowledge, unpunished to this day.
Within 10 minutes, Celtic had struck again. Stuart Armstrong’s press forced Emerson Hyndman into surrendering possession, the blond midfielder then feeding Griffiths on the left-angle of the box. This time Sinclair was the player awaiting the pass for his second goal, watching on as the Scotland striker took aim with his trusty left-foot, before rifling a superb shot through Foderingham and into the roof of the net. Wonderful stuff. Celts 2-0 and cruising as the party started in the packed Broomloan Stand.
Before the half-hour, both Celtic scorers should have added to their respective tallies within twenty seconds, following an electric counter-attack by the Hoops. The move began with a fantastic tackle by Jozo Simunovic, sliding in to take the ball cleanly, a split-second before Kenny Miller arrived, the Ibrox striker launched into a spectacular fall, as the home crowd bayed for blood.
Referee John Beaton chose correctly to wave play on, the Bhoys breaking quickly to set up Griffiths, lurking on the right-hand side of the Rangers penalty area. His superb, curling effort beat Foderingham all ends up but came crashing down off the crossbar, the waiting Sinclair presented with a fantastic opportunity to score again but screwing his shot inches past the far post.
Josh Windass, the son of former Aberdeen striker Dean, then decided to take out his own retribution for the Croatian’s tackle with a ridiculous assault on Sinclair, the Ibrox midfielder fortunate to see only yellow for the challenge. And from the free-kick, Windass’ victim had yet another fabulous chance to increase Celtic’s lead, Sinclair perhaps distracted by his teammate Simunovic as he failed to knock Griffiths’ cross home at the far post.
The second half started just as its predecessor had, Callum McGregor foiled in the opening seconds as Foderingham turned away his point-blank effort, after Armstrong’s fine run and cross had created the chance. McGregor would not be denied much longer though, taking a Roberts pass and teasing James Tavernier on the angle of the box in the seventh minute, before coolly slotting the ball between his legs and into the far corner of the net, to continue the Groundhog Day opening to the second period.
With the party now in full swing, it just got better and better for Celtic. Just after the hour, there was another action replay as Beerman fouled Roberts out wide on the right. Again Griffiths swung in an exquisite cross, the only question being which one of several Celts attacking the ball would get there first, Dedryk Boyata winning that particular challenge to easily head home from three yards for 4-0.
With the home stands rapidly emptying, it was now a question of how many. Stuart Armstrong very nearly grabbed the goal his excellent performance had deserved, his wicked, swerving shot beating Foderingham but also the far post, as we entered the final 15 minutes, his last contribution before making way for Tom Rogic.
Ten minutes from time, I saw something I never thought I would witness at Ibrox, Celtic fans cheering a strike for the home side. Kenny Miller, having finally landed following Simunovic’s tackle, played a one-two with Joe Garner before slotting low past Craig Gordon, a goal strangely reminiscent of the only time he had netted in the Hoops against the original Ibrox club, back in 2006.
The veteran Rangers captain had made a habit of scoring in the fixture pre-Liquidation and had then continued that trend as the second entity came up against the Scottish champions. Miller opened the scoring in the Scottish Cup semi-final 12 months earlier, a feat he repeated in the Ibrox Hogmanay fixture, thus entering the pub quizbooks of the future as the first player to net for all three clubs in this Glasgow derby.
Now though, his goal would be greeted by a different sound, the good-natured cheers of the Hoops faithful in full party mode, singing and dancing along as Madness’ “One Step Beyond,” rather appropriately, boomed out across the stadium speakers. I often think that in these circumstances, just as with the opposition fans cheering your entry to the field as a substitute, a la Andy Halliday in the matches to follow, the game is pretty much up. Total humiliation.
Sadly, for those of a blue persuasion, there was still a final blow to come. The coup de grace. And what a moment it was, Mikael Lustig picking up the ball in the Rangers half and swerving past several opponents before curling the ball into the corner for a goal Lionel Messi himself would have been proud of, the big Swede then sliding in to celebrate with the ecstatic Hoops support, jersey-over-head in an iconic Celtic moment.
Lustig was booked for the latter act, his remarkable final few minutes completed as he took the armband from Scott Brown, the Hoops skipper replaced by Eboue Kouassi having ran the show once again, waving up, fist in the air, as the Free Broomloan roared its approval.
A few minutes later, referee Beaton stopped the non-contest, to an incredible cacophony of noise and explosion of sheer joy all around us, Brendan Rodgers’ domestically-invincible Celts achieving an unprecedented second 5-1 derby victory in the same magical season. It would later transpire that this was also Celtic’s biggest-ever win over Rangers at Ibrox, equalling or superseding a 4-0 victory back in September 1897, depending on your point of view.
I recalled sitting grim-faced in that same stand on the receiving end of a 5-1 scoreline – just a few short months after the centenary triumphs of 1988 – and to witness a few other hammerings since. So, this was a sweet, sweet feeling indeed, especially now being shared with my Celtic-mad daughter. Revenge is a dish best served with five goals at Ibrox.
As I write this, I am thrilled to receive the lovely news that my third grandchild has just arrived in this world, a second boy, as yet unnamed. Suffice to say, I’ll be making a strong case for Mikael Messi Corr!
It was a shell-shocked and self-reflective Pedro Caixinha who addressed the media afterwards.
“We played well but I am to blame. It is my total responsibility. Things didn’t go in the direction we were supposed to have planned, so I am the man responsible. The players tried to do their very best. They had a fantastic attitude and they raised their level.
“I saw more from my players this week than in last weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat. The way we started the game was in that direction. You need to judge me all the time. From day one, since I came here. I am not a guy who puts the responsibility on others.
“I take it all the time. So, judge me all the time. For things that are not going in the right direction, I am responsible, and I always will be. We need to make a lot of changes. We are very keen to reduce the difference. It is possible to bridge the gap and we need to do it. That’s what everyone is working hard towards.”
Despite the historic victory, Brendan Rodgers felt it should have been even more emphatic.
“It was a very comprehensive win. The only disappointment is that we should have scored more goals. What I look for is improvement in performance, and from the first 5-1 to today’s 5-1 there’s a totally different dynamic to the team.
“I said when I came in [that]my job was to build a team who could go into any stadium without fear and play. Obviously, this is one of the great rivals for Celtic, so for us to come here and show that was pleasing. We had a couple of moments, like the goal at the end, which typify it.
“Our defenders defend forward. They are aggressive, step in, and that’s where the fifth goal comes from, with Mika [Lustig] winning it and then scoring like a winger or centre forward. But you have to earn the right. Fundamentally, in any game, you have to defend, and how I like my team to defend is with that aggression and high level of pressing, and the players did it right the way through.
From the first to the last minute, their physicality in the game was top class. Rangers started off with a diamond and if you’re not concentrated, not organised, you can get outnumbered and outpassed. But the players tactically were absolutely superb in the game. So yeah, a big difference in terms of the 5-1 at the beginning of the season to the 5-1 today.”
In addition to their abject humiliation on the field, it had been a day of shame for the Ibrox club off it, due to the neanderthal behaviour of elements of their support. Following on from the monkey gesture aimed at Scott Sinclair, after the Englishman had opened the scoring from the spot, one supporter escaped from the Govan Stand to confront Celtic skipper Scott Brown on the pitch, before being hustled away by police and security staff.
Then, after Dedryk Boyata had made it 4-0, a battery was thrown from the same section of the ground, narrowly missing Leigh Griffiths. The irony of a charging device being launched at the wrong side would almost certainly have been lost on the perpetrator.
*An extract from Invincible, available from the link below.
**Photos Getty Images