So much of Rangers’ resurgence here came through the middle. They started with a 4-2-3-1 formation and the holding duo of Ryan Jack and John Lundstram did the business. Jack was at his efficient, tenacious best of him until fatigue got the better of him – he was replaced after 75 minutes – but it was his Liverpudlian sidekick who really stole the show.
A low-key signing on a free transfer from Sheffield United last summer, Lundstram’s Ibrox career didn’t start well. The pace and physicality of Scottish football seemed to catch him off-guard and as a signing under the Steven Gerrard regime, there was some suggestion back in January that new manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst might dispense of the 28-year-old. He will be glad he didn’t.
Lundstram won the man-of-the-match award and activated beast-mode for this match. What a show of aggression, power and panache. He snapped into tackles and drove forward time and time again, the exertions of extra time against Braga did not seem to affect him. He was unlucky not to score when a curled effort cracked off the post. Only on 101 minutes did Van Bronckhorst decide his race was run, replacing him with Glen Kamara. By that point, Lundstram had battered his Celtic opponents into submission.
What will please those of a Rangers persuasion so much, though, was that when Van Bronckhorst turned to the bench to change his midfield engine oil, the veteran duo of Steven Davis and Scott Arfield did him a right good turn. Davis added a bit of composure and control, slowing the game down to a pace that suited him, while Arfield bagged the equalizer on 78 minutes and offered energy and the desire to break beyond the front line.
What a difference to the Celtic midfield, who were found sorely lacking here. Reo Hatate, a January signing from Kawaski Frontale, burst on to the scene with a double against Rangers back at the start of February, but his performance levels appear to have dipped markedly from then. He was a pale shadow of the terrier-like box-to-box player we saw back then and was too easily muscled off the ball.
His sidekicks, Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor, in a 4-3-3 formation, did not fare much better. Rogic, in fact, was hooked early in the second half for Matt O’Riley, with the Australian internationalist posted missing for much of the proceedings. That can happen with Rogic, a right up and down player. McGregor worked his socks off him but little came off for him. It was telling that his manager Ange Postecoglou said things only really improved when O’Riley came on.
The two teams meet again on cinch Premiership duty again on May 1. How Celtic try to redress the midfield balance from here will be fascinating.
A message from the Editor: Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.