DESPITE a valiant late comeback, Rangers were defeated at the very death by Celtic in tonight’s City of Glasgow Cup Final.
Trailing 2-0 at the break, Glenn Middleton hit a stunning double in the final 13 minutes to seemingly take the game to penalties, but Robbie Deas struck a winner on 95 minutes to send the trophy to Parkhead.
Coach Murty included two players from last week’s Scottish FA Youth Cup final in his XI tonight, Danny Finlayson and Josh McPake, while there were places on the bench for seven members of that winning squad.
The opening to the game was typical Old Firm fayre – high energy and high intensity with plenty of meaty tackles as both sides looked for supremacy in the middle of the park.
And after that initial spell ended, it was Gers who began to play the better football while they also began to create a few chances.
Josh McPake saw a deflected effort find the arms of goalkeeper Ryan Mullen before he turned provider for Glenn Middleton after skinning Wallace Duffy on the left only for Deas to block Middleton’s effort on the line.
Stephen Kelly then saw an effort go just by from 20-yards, but then, against the run of play, Celtic took the lead on 19 minutes.
A long through-ball reached Jack Aitchison just inside the area, and he steadied himself inside the area before finishing beyond Kieran Wright in the Gers’ goal.
Gers responded with Jamie Barjonas pinging one off the underside of the bar from just inside the area following good setup play from Middleton, but Celtic went 2-0 into the lead on 38 minutes.
Mikey Johnston hit a terrific free-kick from just outside the area into the top corner, out of the reach of Wright to leave Gers with a mountain to climb.
Middleton tested Mullen from distance as Gers looked to at least attempt their ascent of said mountain before Ewan Henderson should have killed the game in injury time at the end of the half, firing over a Johnston cross at the back post.
The second half opened with Barjonas again testing his luck, this time from 25-yards out on the left with his effort slipping just wide.
Andy Dallas had a good opportunity from close range as Cammy Palmer fed a ball through to him, but he blasted a first-time effort over the bar.
The game seemed to be drifting somewhat, but on 77 minutes, a moment of inspiration from Glenn Middleton brought Rangers back into the match.
Charging down the left, he reached the 18-yard corner of the box and realising nothing in the middle was on for him, he went for goal and found it in the only place he could – the bottom far corner.
It was a superb finish from the attacker, and it handed Gers hope with 13 minutes still to play they could get back into the match.
Middleton almost created the equaliser straight away, his wonderful ball into the area being put over the bar by sub Dapo Mebude, before, stunningly, Middleton brought Gers level with an astonishing goal.
Taking the ball 30-yards out from goal, he hit the most outstanding shot right into the top corner off the underside of the bar.
It was just wonderful from Middleton, and was to then come close to his hat-trick, with Mullen saving is 30-yard free-kick well, albeit pushing it into the path of Rhys Breen who miscued his shot to win the game from only a few yards out.
If any team looked like winning the game, it seemed it would be Gers, but in the 95th minute, Celtic nicked a winner. The Light Blues were loose in clearing a free-kick, and the ball dropped for Deas to hook into the top corner for 3-2.
RANGERS: Wright; Finlayson, Breen, Mayo, Shiels; Palmer, Kelly, Barjonas; Middleton, Dallas, McPake (Mebude, 65).
SUBS NOT USED: Hogarth, Kennedy, Dickson, Williamson, O’Connor, King.
CELTIC: Mullen, Duffy (Savoury 79), Church, Deas, Welsh, Coffey, Dembele (Robertson 79), Henderson, Aitchison (Harper, 48), Johnston (McLauglin, 75), Oko-Flex.
SUBS NOT USED: Willison, Kennedy, Dier.
REFEREE: Chris Hughes
Since 2002, Rangers Youth Development Company profits have been directed to Rangers Football Club’s youth programme – with almost £8 million provided to date.
And in January this year, Academy Head Craig Mulholland and youth graduate Glenn Middleton accepted an RYDC donation of £400,000.
For full details on RYDC’s growing portfolio of products – the re-launched Rangers Pools, Rangers Lotto, Rising Stars, Scratchcards, Stadium Bricks and the Youth Members Club – visit www.rydc.co.uk or call 0141 427 4914.
The Rangers Youth Development Company has donated almost £8 million to the Rangers Academy since 2002.
One of their main revenue generators is Rangers Lotto – which costs just £1 to play, is one of the most successful products in RYDC’s growing portfolio and fans have won cash prizes of £10 million since it was launched in 1994.
For full details on all their products – Rangers Lotto, Rangers Pools, Rising Stars, Scratchcards, Stadium Bricks and the Youth Members Club – visit www.rydc.co.uk or call 0141 427 4914.