Rangers’ are through to the Scottish Cup final after a 2-1 win over Celtic after extra time at Hampden this afternoon as goals from Scott Arfield and Fashion Sakala secured a comeback win.
The Light Blues made a single change from the marathon midweek win over Braga in the Europa League, Jon McLaughlin coming into the starting XI to replace Allan McGregor.
It was Rangers who had the first chance to open the scoring, Kent firing over as Callum McGregor crunched into the Gers wideman shaped to shoot.
There was a frantic start as the game went from end to end, Jota having Celtic’s first chance of the game before McGregor was again involved with a late challenge of Aribo.
The Light Blues had started fairly well though with Roofe next to try his luck, shooting from distance and going just wide of Joe Hart’s left-hand post.
The 16-goal striker showed some really good technique, initially looking as though he was going to feed Barisic inside the Celtic right-back before shooting instead.
While Rangers were looking hungry to open the scoring, John Lundstram was playing a big part in making it happen in the middle of the park for Gio van Bronckhorst’s side.
The former Sheffield United star was everywhere closing passes down and harrying Celtic players as the Light Blues got right in their opponents’ faces.
As the opening 15 minutes went by in a flash, it was Rangers who will have been the happier of the two sides, stopping Celtic from playing the way they would have liked and looking the more likely to break the deadlock.
There was no sign of any fatigue among the Rangers players despite their Europa League marathon on Thursday night, looking fresh and more than matching the energy of the Parkhead side.
Celtic had a lucky escape on 20 minutes, Tavernier’s enticing cross flashing across goal and forcing a nervy clearance from Juranovic at the cost of a corner.
Rangers were almost masters of their own downfall shortly afterwards, Bassey and McLaughlin playing silly passes inside the area before the keeper got one badly wrong and gifted them a corner.
The frantic opening stages had calmed down by the midway point and the game became a bit more scrappy as the momentum slowed down and both sides turned over possession to the other.
There was another dangerous opportunity for Rangers when Bobby Madden awarded a free kick on the edge of the area after Rogic fouled Roofe, however, Aaron Ramsey fired over the bar as the chance went begging.
Rangers went the closest of either side 33 minutes in, Roofe’s header being cleared by Starfelt before Aribo tried to knock the ball home and took a sore one as he did so.
Aribo would soon become the first player to go in the referee’s book, taking one for the team and breaking up a counter-attack in the middle of the pitch and letting the Rangers defence regroup.
Callum McGregor would follow a minute or two later when he tried, and failed, to bring Kent down, while the Celtic players complained that Juranovic was down after a coming together with Aribo.
There was another lucky escape for Celtic five minutes before the break, John Lundstram cracking the ball of Hart’s post with a stunning effort that had the keeper beaten.
Just as things looked to be going well for Rangers, Aaron Ramsey’s afternoon was brought to an end when the Welshman went down with nobody near him, limping off holding his hamstring with Scott Wright coming on in his place.
After Ryan Jack earned himself a place in the book for a foul on Hatate, the opening half would draw to a close with neither side breaking the deadlock.
There was little doubt Rangers were in the ascendancy before the interval but the big question as the players made their way off was whether or not they’d be able to turn their dominance into a goal
The game started bubbling over a little with a number of heavy tackles breaking up the play and forcing Bobby Madden into stepping in and trying to calm things down a little.
Ten minutes in, Kent went within inches of making it 1-0, cutting inside from the left before unleashing an effort that went just wide of the post.
Bassey got away with one when he was robbed of possession by O’Riley and the Dane’s cross was intercepted by the retreating Goldson as his inexperienced teammate showed his appreciation.
The Nigerian had struggled to really find his feet – particularly after the break – and it was surely providing more than a few nervous moments for the Rangers bench.
With 27 minutes left, the deadlock was finally broken as Celtic’s Greg Taylor scored from a well-worked free-kick, with the Rangers defence too slow to react; Taylor’s effort taking a deflection off Bassey on it’s way towards goal.
The defending was nowhere near good enough from the Light Blues and they had nobody but themselves to blame after falling behind.
It really should have been two a minute or two later, Carter-Vickers crashing an effort off the bar as Rangers failed to clear their lines at a corner.
Van Bronckhorst would make a double change for the final quarter of an hour, Scott Arfield and Steven Davis coming on in place of Ryan Jack and Joe Aribo and it paid off within minutes.
Tavernier’s ball across the box was perfectly weighted and Arfield was there to fire home and send the Rangers end at Hampden wild – the first time a Rangers player had scored at that end against them since Peter Lovenkrands 20 years ago.
The Gers had their tails up after the goal and had the ball in the net again minutes later, Roofe having yet another goal disallowed this week.
With the minutes ticking away, Rangers were dominant as they looked for a winner in normal time and avoid having to go to extra time for the second time in four days – however extra time it was.
The addition of Arfield and Davis was having the effect intended, calming the Rangers midfield and allowing them to use the ball much better and make things harder for Celtic when they tried to get forward.
Five minutes into extra-time Rangers felt they should have had a penalty when Roofe burst through onto Scott Wright’s pass before going down under a challenge from Hart – although it would have been a soft one.
There were signs of some quickly-tiring legs in the Rangers side as extra-time headed towards half-time and van Bronckhorst may have been surely considering further changes to add some extra energy – and it came soon afterwards with Kamara replacing Lundstram in midfield.
Rangers picked up a second injury concern when Borna Barisic was replaced by Leon Balogun while Kemar Roofe went off with Fashion Sakala taking over from him.
Somehow, Joe Hart denied Rangers several times in a matter of seconds as it looked as though the Light Blues were going to get their second of the afternoon with ten minutes left.
With six minutes to go, Sakala made it 2-1.
Calvin Bassey done brilliantly to put the ball across the box and Sakala was there to bundle it home at the back post and leave Rangers within touching distance of the final.
It was nothing more than Rangers deserved and the Light Blues would have plenty of reason to be unhappy had they had to go to penalties and, with no response from Celtic, the unlikeliest of trebles still remains on.
Rangers: McLaughlin, Tavernier, Goldson, Bassey, Barisic, Jack, Lundstram, Aribo, Ramsey, Kent, Roofe.
Subs: McGregor, Amad, Davis, Kamara, Sands, Wright, Balogun, Fashion Jr, Arfield, King, Lowry.
Celtic: Hart, Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor, McGregor, Hatate, Rogic, Jota, Maeda, Abada.
Subs: Bain, Jullien, Kyogo, Turnbull, McCarthy, Ideguchi, Johnston, O’Riley, Forrest, Ralston, Welsh.
Meanwhile, an ex-Rangers star launches GvB defence of January transfer window signings