Len­non sees red as Celtic fail to make Rangers pay

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports News - EWAN MUR­RAY at Ibrox

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

Pho­to­graphs: Rus­sell Cheyne/reuters; Lynne Cameron/pa

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.

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