KRIS COMMONS Rangers were fitter, faster, stronger and deserved to win

KRIS COMMONS: Rangers were fitter, faster and stronger and deserved to win… the victories over Braga and Celtic have restored Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s reputation among fans

  • Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men went the extra mile to beat Celtic on Sunday
  • It was the second time in a matter of days Rangers had played 120 minutes
  • Rangers are now through to Europa League semi-final and Scottish Cup final

Never mind the Easter Bunny. When he really needed it, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s players delivered a performance that was more in keeping with the Duracell Bunny.

What a phenomenal effort that was from Rangers at Hampden. It was a triumph not only of fitness, but of courage and sheer desire.

Their determination to go the extra mile and find some extra reserves of energy and power was all the more impressive given what happened against Braga on Thursday night.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Rangers delivered an impressive performance to beat Celtic

To go the full distance of 120 minutes and win in extra-time says a lot about a team’s attitude. To do it twice in a matter of days is truly remarkable.

All the more so when you consider the context of both games. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Rangers’ entire season hinged on the outcome of both of these games.

Had things not gone to plan, their whole season would now be in ruins. Braga would have dumped them out of Europe, with Celtic then marching on towards a Treble.

If that had happened, fans would have been calling for Van Bronckhorst to be relieved of his duties in the summer.

That’s how things work in the Glasgow goldfish bowl. It wouldn’t have mattered that he’s still relatively new in the job.

Celtic put themselves in control of the Old Firm semi-final when Greg Taylor (front) netted

Instead, the picture now looks totally different. Rangers now have a Europa League semi-final to look forward to as well as a Scottish Cup final.

It always felt like this could be a defining few days for Van Bronckhorst — and full credit to him because he has passed it with flying colours.

These two victories have restored his reputation among the Ibrox supporters at a time when he was beginning to come under serious scrutiny.

Back-to-back wins in games of such magnitude show fans that he will be the man to lead the club forward next season after an inevitable squad rebuild in the summer.

You have to remember the context around all of this. In what were the two biggest games of Rangers’ season, Van Bronckhorst has won them both without his best player.

Scott Arfield levelled the match minutes after coming off the bench to replace Joe Aribo

You don’t do that if you’re a bad manager. Given the form Alfredo Morelos has shown since the Dutchman took charge, he was always going to be a massive loss.

But Van Bronckhorst has found another way to win — and it stemmed from a much more aggressive and pro-active approach at Hampden yesterday.

When Rangers were thrashed 3-0 at Celtic Park in February, their whole team sat so deep and just invited pressure.

It became wave after wave of relentless attacking football from Celtic. But it was a totally different story yesterday.

Rangers were much more aggressive in how they pressed Celtic and engaged them higher up the pitch.

They almost went man-for-man at times in midfield. Even the centre-backs Connor Goldson and Calvin Bassey were really aggressive in how high the pressed the ball.

Celtic never quite found a way of playing through the press, which has been unlike them over recent weeks and months.

There was to be a late twist when Carl Starfelt put through his own net to win it for Rangers

Tom Rogic and Reo Hatate were basically just passengers in midfield. The front three of Jota, Liel Abada and Daizen Maeda were also largely ineffective.

It’s probably as lacklustre and tame a performance as I’ve seen from Celtic since the European games against Bodo/Glimt.

They just never got going at all. There was no spark and they certainly didn’t look like a team who were fresh coming into this game on the back of an eight-day break.

Ange Postecoglou was asked about that in his pre-match interview and whether he felt the extra rest period would be beneficial.

His answer was basically along the lines of there being no such thing as a rest period. He insisted that the players had been worked hard physically in training during the week.

Those sort of comments don’t look particularly clever when you’ve got Cameron Carter-Vickers literally unable to run in extra-time, with other players also cramping up.

Rangers actually looked like the fitter team yesterday. From a Celtic point of view, how can that possibly happen? Rangers were able to come from behind and find an extra gear to win it in extra-time. It was such an odd way for the game to pan out given the respective schedule of both teams.

It was bitterly disappointing for Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou having been leading the match

A lot of people were questioning the performance of referee Bobby Madden. In all honesty, I found some of his decisions absolutely baffling.

John Lundstram was excellent in the heart of the Rangers midfield, but the reality is that he was extremely fortunate to stay on the pitch for as long as he did.

He could have been booked quite easily on three different occasions at the very least. But Madden was extremely lenient, to put it mildly.

This raises another question. What good is VAR going to be in Scotland when the basic level of officiating is so obviously incompetent?

Yeah, VAR will obviously will help with the big decisions like penalties and red cards. But you are still relying on the referees showing a basic level of competency beyond that.

When we’ve got such an awful standard of refereeing, VAR isn’t going to be the silver bullet that a lot of people seem to think.

The performance of Madden doesn’t take away from the fact that Rangers were simply the better team on the day. They deserved to win.

Celtic must now refocus their efforts on securing the Premiership title. I don’t expect yesterday’s defeat to have any major impact in that regard.

I still fully expect Celtic to go on and get the job done. A Treble would have been nice. But a league and League Cup double will still feel like a hell of an achievement given where they were last summer.

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