Tread­ing the drain­ing path to­wards glory and de­jec­tion

Pas­sion and ten­sion on the pitch is also played out in Ham­p­den tech­ni­cal ar­eas


THE two ex­tended tech­ni­cal ar­eas that sep­a­rate the raised dug-outs at Ham­p­den and the perime­ter of the pitch are cov­ered with ar­ti­fi­cial rather than nat­u­ral grass. It is prob­a­bly just as well. Good­ness knows what state the much-ma­ligned na­tional sta­dium turf – that, ad­mit­tedly, stood up well over two semi-fi­nals that went on for 120 min­utes and then some – might have been in oth­er­wise given the re­lent­less back-and-forth prowl­ing of the two men tread­ing it.

The sur­face may have sur­vived but there can­not have been much leather or rub­ber left on the shoes of Mark War­bur­ton or Ronny Deila by the time they fi­nally got home and wearily put their feet up. The Rangers and Celtic play­ers did not stint for ef­fort dur­ing one of the most com­pelling Scot­tish Cup semi-fi­nals in liv­ing mem­ory but the same could also be said for their man­agers who prowled their re­spec­tive ter­ri­to­ries like caged an­i­mals, pad­ding back and forth re­lent­lessly as play raged on in front of them.

It was a largely soli­tary ex­is­tence for both as they stood at the edge of their tech­ni­cal ar­eas and peered out like a sea cap­tain look­ing out from the bow of his ship. From time to time, they would be joined by their as­sis­tants – David Weir for Rangers, mostly John Kennedy for Celtic – who would charge back and for­ward for brief tac­ti­cal meet­ings like mes­sen­ger boys run­ning er­rands. Those same deputies would also take the lead role when it came to re­mon­strat­ing with the fourth of­fi­cial when­ever a per­ceived in­jus­tice be­fell ei­ther team, although Deila could not help but also weigh in vo­cally fol­low­ing the in­cor­rect throw-in de­ci­sion by ref­eree Craig Thom­son that led to Rangers’ sec­ond goal.

There were per­sis­tent, largely fu­tile at­tempts from both man­agers to guide, en­cour­age and ca­jole their play­ers. Amid such a din this was like play­ing Chi­nese whis­pers in the midst of a hur­ri­cane. Cup­ping their hands around their mouths – in an at­tempt to bol­ster the vol­ume – did not seem to make a huge amount of dif­fer­ence. In­stead sign lan­guage and ges­tures be­came the eas­i­est way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing, both man­agers largely pos­i­tive as they clapped their en­cour­age­ment and tried to get more out of the play­ers. There was, how­ever, one ex­tended con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Deila and Leigh Grif­fiths dur­ing the first half that con­tin­ued with the striker shout­ing some­thing over his shoul­der as he dis­ap­peared up the tun­nel at half-time. Deila, though, is noth­ing if not per­sis­tent, an arm around the shoul­der en­cour­ag­ing Grif­fiths ahead of the penalty shoot-out.

Un­sur­pris­ingly given the sap­ping na­ture of the tie, both man­agers used their full al­lo­ca­tion of sub­sti­tutes to try to in­flu­ence pro­ceed­ings. War­bur­ton, in a not-too-sub­tle mes­sage to chair­man Dave King, had named just five re­place­ments on the bench and would call upon Nicky Law, Ge­dion Ze­lalem and Nicky Clark, with Kenny Miller com­ing off at the start of ex­tra time hav­ing run him­self into the ground.

Deila’s first change was en­forced – the in­jured Dedryck Boy­ata re­placed by Eric Svi­atchenko who would go on to make a pos­i­tive im­pact – be­fore Tom Rogic and Cal­lum McGre­gor were later called upon in tac­ti­cal switches. It was no­tice­able that Kris Com­mons, some­one who has in­flu­enced so many Old Firm games in the past, was not thrown into the fray.

It took the fren­zied drama of a shootout, iron­i­cally, to fi­nally bring about a mo­ment of calm for both man­agers. At that point, when it all comes down to a bat­tle of wits be­tween penalty taker and goal­keeper, then even the most dec­o­rated man­ager must feel a cer­tain pang of help­less­ness, their pow­ers all but ren­dered tem­po­rar­ily void.

Even then the lone­li­ness of man­age­ment was still ap­par­ent. As the rest of the Rangers en­tourage stood on the touch­line, arms around shoul­ders, War­bur­ton, in club suit and tie, stood a few steps away, a man alone with his thoughts. His calm­ness was per­haps down to the metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion that had been put in dur­ing the build-up, with Rangers hav­ing prac­tised penal­ties, their tak­ers lined up in ad­vance. Across the di­vide, Deila, in track­suit and train­ers, stood along­side his coaches but with­out link­ing arms. It was quite the thing to wit­ness both man­agers – as kicks were scored and missed – stand largely mo­tion­less, their bod­ies deadly still while their minds whirled with pos­si­bil­ity.

Only when Rogic had fluffed the piv­otal kick in the shoot-out were both men able to break from their trance, War­bur­ton peel­ing away to cel­e­brate joy­ously with his staff, play­ers and sup­port­ers, while Deila’s head dropped briefly in dis­may. They would be joined one fi­nal time, a hand­shake be­tween the men a brief ac­knowl­edge­ment that both had shared the most dra­matic and ex­haust­ing af­ter­noon.

CALL­ING THE SHOTS: Ronny Deila and Mark War­bur­ton pa­trol their tech­ni­cal ar­eas as they yell en­cour­age­ment . . .

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