Lennon sees red as Celtic fail to make Rangers pay
THERE WAS a surreal touch to this Old Firm encounter – Celtic supporters even cheered Rangers’ goals – but a familiar feeling too. Controversy lurks at these fixtures, almost as an ominous prerequisite. Neil Lennon launched a withering attack on the referee, Calum Murray, after seeing his Celtic side reduced to nine men in the 57th minute and enduring his own brush with officialdom.
Lennon essentially accused the match officials of collusion following a defeat by opponents who appeared to enjoy postponing their old adversaries’ title-winning party as much as they relished clinching the championship at Celtic Park in 1999.
Lennon had waited to have words with Murray as the teams left the field at half-time and was subsequently told he would not be allowed to take his place in the dugout for the second period.
“My sending off is a joke,” said Celtic’s manager. “I spoke quite quietly and coldly to the referee in the tunnel. I didn’t swear and didn’t point any fingers. I told him I wasn’t happy with his first-half performance. I’ve got witnesses. I do my team talk at half-time, I walk back out and got called into the referee’s room. I have been deprived of doing my job properly when my team needed me. I am very angry about that.”
It merely added to Lennon’s ire that he was unable to take a seat in the Ibrox main stand on security advice. Instead, he watched the closing 45 minutes on a TV monitor in the media room.
“That just sums things up in this country,” Lennon said. “The biggest game of the season and I can’t go out in the stand to watch my team or send down messages. I might as well have sat in the house and watched the second half. When you are down to nine men, it is an uphill task. This is not the first time we have come to Ibrox and had players sent off for little or nothing.”
This affair promises to rumble on. Still, what Lennon should not ignore is that too many of his players underperformed. Celtic had travelled to Ibrox looking for the victory which would secure the Scottish Premier League championship but left wounded; their own shortcomings, added to Rangers’ dynamic showing, are worthy of more focus than Lennon would publicly prefer.
The hosts took supreme delight in winning the only match in this troubled denouement to their season that they care about. For the first time in Lennon’s tenure, Celtic have lost back-to-back domestic matches. It would be a pity if Celtic, who have obviously been the superior side in Scotland in this campaign, crawl over the SPL finishing line.
The Rangers support, who excel in defiance, offered something akin to the last stand of the British empire. And what a din they created in doing so. Celtic’s contingent, as was the case even after the result was decided, vociferously pointed out exactly where the SPL trophy will be housed sooner or later. Still, the intense sentiment attached to the Old Firm means those in green and white could only attempt to mask the hurt associated with derby defeat.
Sone Aluko, who excelled for Rangers, claimed a terrific opening goal. The Nigerian nutmegged Thomas Rogne and skipped past Charlie Mulgrew before a low, near-post finish.
That at least roused Celtic into something resembling an attacking force for a brief period. Georgios Samaras stung the palms of the Rangers goalkeeper Allan Mcgregor before Anthony Stokes wasted a fine chance with the rebound. Stokes was similarly profligate with a back-post header after 27 minutes.
Just 120 seconds later, Celtic had been reduced to 10 men. Cha Du-ri clearly pulled back Lee Wallace, 19 yards from goal, as the midfielder sought to collect an Aluko pass. The fairest assessment of the incident arrived from the Rangers manager, Ally Mccoist.
“Did he prevent a goalscoring opportunity? Probably. Was it a soft sending off? Probably,” said Mccoist. What is beyond dispute is that Cha’s exit doused any sentiment that Celtic could claw themselves back into the proceedings. Victor Wanyama became the second Celtic player to have his afternoon cut short, 12 minutes after the interval. The midfielder has little defence after challenging Steven Whittaker with two feet.
From there, the burning question was whether Mccoist’s men had the ruthlessness required to capitalise on a numerical advantage. Answers arrived from Andrew Little, who slammed home at close range, and Wallace, who met a Steven Davis pass before offering a low finish.
With two minutes remaining, Carlos Bocanegra upended Samaras inside the penalty area to prompt another flash of red from Murray. Scott Brown dispatched the penalty with Rogne heading a Celtic second past Mcgregor in stoppage time. Guardian service
Rangers’ Sasa Papac (right) challenges Celtic’s Georgios Samaras at Ibrox yesterday while Celtic fans (below) make the most of their bitter rivals’ financial troubles.