Brown Dominates Black as The Greens Beat The Blues in the Old Firm Derby
The Greens saw off the Blues in Glasgow’s first Old Firm derby since April 2012, but it was Scott Brown’s utter dominance of his midfield opposite Ian Black that goes a long way to explaining Celtic’s comfortable victory.
Rightly so, much of the post-match debate is focussing on Brown – the Celtic captain I mean, not the colour of the “shocking” Hampden Park pitch – who justifiably won the Man of the Match award.
Having waited over 1,000 days between Old Frim derbies, the Celtic number eight looked very much up for the match and made his presence known from the very beginning of this derby, fouling his opposite number Black in the first five minutes - a classic case of marking his authority on the game. Rangers, however, were guilty of the exact opposite as Kenny McDowall’s side consistently afforded Celtic far too much space in midfield.
That was evident when Celtic opened the scoring in the tenth minute. Stefan Johansen was given acres of the scruffy Hampden pitch as he received the ball from a throw-in and the Norwegian used the time to pick out a perfectly weighted cross to the back post where Leigh Griffiths peeled off two Rangers defenders to nod the ball home from close range, sending the Celtic fans into a frenzy and prompting a chorus of Zombie Nation to echo round the National Stadium.
If Johansen’s cross had shown the difference in intensity and quality between the two teams’ midfields then Scott Brown and Kris Commons offered up a further example just after the half hour mark.
Brown’s persistence and fight to steal a seemingly unwinnable ball put Nicky Law and Ian Black under pressure and forced a poor clearance from the former which arrived perfectly at Kris Commons’ feet. The Scot rewarded his captain’s efforts by smashing a shot into the top corner through the fingertips of Gers stopper Steve Simonsen.
The goal summed up the story of the match so far. Brown and his midfield colleagues had consistently forced Rangers into errors while Celtic looked like having the quality to capitalise, not necessarily surprising given their respective positions in Scotland’s league set-up.
Just four minutes later, Brown’s dominance of the midfield could have increased the Bhoys’ lead further when, not for the first time, he shrugged off Black and sent Leigh Griffiths through on goal. However, rather than play advantage, referee Craig Thompson whistled for Black’s follow through on Brown, prompting some less than amicable questioning from the Celtic players.
Johansen could have still added a third before the break but was denied by Simonsen before the second half carried on in much the same vein. Just a minute after the re-start, Commons tried his luck from distance once again and forced a save.
Griffiths also had a chance to double his tally in the second half when he took control of a bouncing long ball and almost got a shot away before Black and Lee Wallace bundled him over in the box, legally according to referee Thompson.
There were to be few more efforts on goal, though, as Celtic took the sting out of the game with Nir Biton keeping possession well in the Hoops’ midfield while centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer dealt with anything that did manage to find its way into the Celtic box.
Van Dijk was as solid as usual, while Denayer proved that sometimes a player’s footballing age isn’t defined by the ink on his birth certificate. That piece of paper would have told you the Belgian is only 19 years old, but his composed performance had all the confidence of an Old Firm veteran.
If Celtic’s superior intensity and class in midfield and central defence was one storyline of the match, the other was their quality delivery into the box.
Not only had Johansen’s cross led to a goal, but both of Celtic’s first half corners were whipped in dangerously, whereas Rangers’ first half was plagued by poor delivery from set pieces in promising positions.
While Celtic’s energy in the middle of the park gave them a stranglehold on the game, it occasionally got the better of them and afforded Rangers free-kicks in promising positions midway inside the Celtic half. The Gers failed to put in even one good delivery, either failing to beat the first man or sending the ball straight into Craig Gordon’s largely idle hands.
This was a theme that carried on into the second half and although Rangers played with more determination and played a little more of the match in the Celtic half, their set piece delivery remained poor. Even in the final minute of the 90 - when Rangers won a free-kick just outside the box and had a chance to give the Mount Florida end something to shout about - Ian Black again had his delivery blocked by the first man.
That proved to be the last chance for Rangers to half the deficit and so the score remained 2-0.
The afternoon wasn’t yet over for Black, however, who found himself on the receiving end of a crunching Scott Brown tackle in the dying seconds, for which the Man of the Match was rightly booked. Black allowed himself to get wound up at the challenge, but his frustration was more likely a result of having spent the afternoon in Brown’s back pocket rather than at that particular challenge.
Seconds later the final whistle blew. Black and his Rangers teammates were out. Brown and his Celtic side were through to the final and the green half of Glasgow celebrated winning the 400th Old Firm derby. It had been a long wait since the 399th edition of this rivalry, but for one half of the 51,000 at Hampden Park it had been worth it.