By Brian P. Dunleavy
Forgive us if the scene seems all too familiar.
Celtic, the league done and dusted, enter a Scottish Cup semi-final against the other half of the Old Firm in the midst of what for them, in 2017, constitutes a bad run of form, while their opponents, Rangers, look, at least relatively speaking, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, as yet undefeated in five matches under a new manager. Could Pedro Caixinha’s men repeat recent history and upset the Hoops at Hampden again, for the second time in a 12-month span?
That pessimism out of the way, here are some random thoughts on Sunday’s Old Firm semi-final redux:
What can Brown do for you?
Not much if he can’t play. Celtic took advantage of the SFA’s closure over the Easter holiday and appealed captain Scott Brown’s red card against Ross County, meaning he will play on Sunday. Brown’s decision to launch into Liam Boyce was almost as daft as referee Don Robertson’s moments before, in which he awarded the Staggies a penalty for an obvious dive. “Broonie” will have to play with a more even keel on Sunday if he wants to stay on the park.
For whom the whistle blows…:
With apologies to Hemingway.
Speaking of Robertson, he will be behind one of the goals on Sunday—no, not in the Rangers end at Hampden but as one of the goal-line officials. Would be something were he to play a part in the outcome, no?
The ageless one, Kenny Miller, has scored a dozen goals in all competitions for Rangers, but he is effectively playing for a new contract now, with his current deal up at the close of the season and Caixinha making it clear that all ’Gers players are under a microscope. Don’t be surprised if Miller’s name is on the scoresheet on Sunday.
“We didn’t sign Denayer…:”
For those of you who don’t know, that’s the opening line to the Dedryck Boyata song (to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”). Since clinching the league, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has rotated his central defenders, with Boyata, Jozo Simunovic and Erik Sviatchenko all seeing time. At times, depending on whichever two are in the starting XI, there have appeared to be breakdowns in communication, and the Hoops have conceded goals as a result. Rodgers has to make the right choice here.
The Garner did it:
Or, more likely, he didn’t. It seems ’Gers supporters just can’t make up their minds on striker Joe Garner. Has he been underused (with eight goals in 29 matches across all comps) or a major disappointment? He certainly was a pest for Caixinha’s team in their win at Aberdeen a fortnight ago. If he repeats that on Sunday, he may finally win the hearts and minds of the Ibrox faithful. Or maybe not.
Strikers on strike?
Speaking of out-of-form strikers, Celtic have two—both Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths—who have been having difficulty staying on the park and finding the back of the net of late. Given that the Hoops clinched the league title at Hearts, with a 4-0 win, without a true striker in the starting XI, some have wondered whether it makes sense to leave both Dembele and Griffiths on the bench for Sunday and play Scott Sinclair, Patrick Roberts and James Forrest as a front three instead. Don’t count us in that camp. We have a feeling about Griffiths, and hope Rodgers sees fit to start him.
Well, we generally avoid them. But, we’ll give it a go. Rodgers isn’t Ronny Deila, and this isn’t last year’s Celtic. Though Rangers are getting better, we see Celtic taking this one 2-1, with a goal from Griffiths in heart-stopping extra time.