RANGERS suffered a painful defeat in today’s League Cup final, with Christopher Jullien’s goal on 60 minutes giving Celtic a 1-0 victory at Hampden.
Despite putting in a strong performance and dominating the game for long spells, the Light Blues were guilty of missing numerous goal-scoring chances that came their way, with Fraser Forster also saving an Alfredo Morelos penalty in the second half.
Indeed, Celtic’s goalkeeper will be very unlucky if he doesn’t receive the man of the match award having made several crucial stops throughout the 96 minutes of play to frustrate Steven Gerrard’s men and the fans in red, white and blue.
The Gers manager made two changes to his line-up this afternoon with the injured Steven Davis and Jon Flanagan, who started against Aberdeen in midweek, dropping out and Borna Barisic and Glen Kamara returning to the team at left-back and on the right wing respectively.
The pre-match atmosphere in the stadium was, as ever for these occasions, electric as both teams walked onto the rain-soaked Hampden playing surface. The fireworks and pyrotechnics only added to the red-hot build-up as kick-off approached.
With 30 seconds on the clock Morelos won the first corner as Rangers started the match impressively and on the front foot. Helander’s header from Tavernier’s delivery was punched clear nervously by Forster for another corner.
Tavernier again sent the ball in dangerously and Goldson this time powered a header wide under pressure from Christopher Jullien.
It was just the start Gerrard would have hoped for and on three minutes Goldson again headed wide, this time from a Tavernier free-kick.
On nine minutes Celtic had their first attempt on Allan McGregor’s goal, with Lewis Morgan failing to hit the target with a first-time effort after industrious play from James Forrest on the right wing.
With referee Willie Collum letting play flow in the early stages it was proving to be a lively, entertaining start to the match, with Rangers looking hungry.
On 14 minutes a stunning shot from distance from Ryan Jack was heading for the top corner of Forster’s goal but somehow he got a hand to the ball when that looked impossible.
It was a terrific save from the towering keeper and Jack must have thought he had opened the scoring as soon as the ball left his right boot. It wasn’t to be this time, but Rangers kept at it.
On 21 minutes a powerful drive from Morelos squirmed under Forster and Jonny Hayes had to react quickly to clear the ball ahead of Aribo.
From the corner that followed Helander glanced another header past the far post before, in the next attack, the busy Forster had to get down to his near post to make another save from Morelos.
Rangers were certainly on top as the half-hour mark approached and they had created more scoring opportunities, but Celtic too were showing their attacking threat, with Kristoffer Ajer heading over the bar from a Ryan Christie corner.
An injury to Jack, which he recovered from, meant there was a break in the play as the Gers midfielder received treatment. When the action restarted Rangers again pushed forward with intent and they could, and should, have got their noses in front.
With 39 minutes showing on the giant Hampden screens, Arfield slipped a great pass to Morelos in the box but once again Forster was there to make an impressive stop with his right leg.
It was a glaring opportunity for the Colombian who only had to lift the ball off the playing surface with his shot to put his team ahead in the contest.
For the start of the second half Neil Lennon made his first change to his side, with Mohamed Elyounoussi going off and Mikey Johnston taking his place.
Rangers, however, again started the half positively with the impressive Barisic sending in a great cross which was cleared out to Tavernier on the edge of the 18-yard box. The captain’s shot went high and wide at the Rangers end of the ground.
It was all happening at the start of the second period and when Tavernier’s deep cross landed at the feet of Morelos he, at full stretch, saw his shot roll across the face of the goal with every bear in the stadium willing it to spin over the line.
It was now relentless pressure from the Gers with Forster producing heroics in the Celtic goal. After getting across to deny Aribo after a goalmouth scramble the giant goalkeeper, on 55 minutes, used his outstretched left arm to stop Morelos’ downward header from bouncing into the net.
But for all Rangers’ domination and chances, it was Celtic that opened the scoring on the hour mark, with Jullien getting the goal.
Ryan Christie’s curling cross from the left wing dipped in the box for the centre-half who looked to be offside before he prodded the ball past McGregor.
Three minutes later Rangers had an opportunity to get back into this dramatic match when Jeremie Frimpong was adjudged to have fouled Morelos as the striker went to meet a cross.
Collum pointed to the spot and sent off the Celtic youngster before regular penalty taker Tavernier handed the ball to Morelos.
He went for power from 12 yards but again Forster was there to make a dramatic save before the ball was booted clear.
It was remarkable that at this point of the match Rangers had yet to score and the club’s fans had their hands over their eyes again on 68 minutes when Celtic produced a swift counter attack.
Substitute Odsonne Edouard was on the halfway line when he slid a through pass to Johnston who had a one v one situation with McGregor. The 20-year-old, however, hesitated and then sent his shot wide.
Jermain Defoe replaced Glen Kamara on 71 minutes with Rangers in need of a spark in the latter stages, but his introduction failed to bring an equaliser and it was the Celtic players that got their hands on the League Cup trophy after the final whistle.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander (Katic 84), Barisic, Jack, Kamara (Defoe 71), Aribo (Barker 74), Arfield, Kent, Morelos
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Flanagan, Stewart, Ojo
BOOKINGS: Kamara, Arfield
CELTIC: Forster, Frimpong, Ajer, Jullien, Hayes, Brown, McGregor, Forrest (Bitton 66), Christie, Elyounoussi (Johnston 45), Morgan (Edouard 59)
SUBS NOT USED: Gordon, Bolingoli, Ntcham, Rogic
GOALS: Jullien 60
BOOKINGS: Jullien, Ajer
RED CARD: Frimpong
REFEREE: William Collum