Celtic beat Rangers in League Cup Final

GOALS from Youth Academy graduates, Darren O’Dea and Aiden McGeady, delivered Celtic’s first silverware of the season, sealing a 2-0 win over Rangers in the League Cup Final.

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This intense, dramatic match, played by two teams vying for leverage in the Premier League title race, stretched into extra-time, with Celtic playing the better football throughout.

Then, just a minute into extra time, Shunsuke Nakamura delivered one of his trademark set pieces, which Celtic Youth Academy graduate, O’Dea, lifted over the outstretched fingertips of Allan McGregor.

It then fell to the Irishman’s close friend and international team-mate, McGeady, to cap off a great win with his late penalty.

The match started as expected, at its usual breakneck pace, with Rangers attempting to release Kenny Miller and find Kyle Lafferty with long balls, while a nice passing move involving Scott McDonald, Nakamura and Gary Caldwell released McGeady for an early sprint at goal.

The Irish midfielder was unlucky not to win a corner in this early foray and looked busy from the outset in an advanced role, partnering McDonald in Celtic’s attack.

Although Gordon Strachan’s men lined-up in their usual 4-4-2 formation, it was a somewhat ‘experimental’ starting XI, with Paul Hartley on the right wing, Nakamura on the other, Caldwell in the centre of midfield and Glenn Loovens taking his place in defence.

McGeady was again involved in Celtic’s next promising attack, cutting back a ball which was headed over by McDonald, although Scott Brown was also warming to the task, breaking forward and coming close with a shot from 25 yards in the 27th minute.

The shot came in the midst of a promising spell for Celtic and just minutes later Nakamura lifted a high, curling cross into the box which was met majestically in the air by Loovens and fired past the post.

Moments later, with Celtic passing the ball well, McGeady cut back another perfectly placed pass from the byline which Brown dinked over the bar.

It had all looked so promising for Celtic, until a wayward blast over the bar by Steve Davis four minutes before half time signalled the start of a Rangers’ fightback.

This was then followed by the best attempt of the half by Lafferty, who, after out-muscling Andreas Hinkel, turned at the edge of the box and sent in a ferocious effort that inspired a great save by Artur Boruc.

The second half started in a similar vein, with Lafferty this time missing the target after pulling away from O’Dea and Davis sending a shot from over 20 yards out trundling past the post.

With Lafferty now playing as an out-and-out striker, Celtic found themselves with much more to do in the second half and then, with an hour on the clock, they almost played into Rangers’ hands, with a series of hesitant passes along the back line putting Boruc under pressure.

But just as Davis’ first half shot had sparked a reaction from Rangers, a series of chopping fouls on McGeady allowed Nakamura to test Allan McGregor with a free-kick and Celtic built on this with a chance for O’Dea and a melee in the penalty box.

Brown was the next man to send a tremor of concern through the opposing ranks, testing McGregor with a shot from an acute angle and then, from the resulting corner, Loovens was desperately unlucky to see his attempt blocked on the line by Mendes.

Going into the last 15 minutes of regulation time it was now a much tighter affair and substitute Nacho Novo tested Boruc with a long-range attempt before Lee McCulloch came close with a header.

There were further attempts, with Nakamura curling a corner into the danger area, Mendes following this with a swerving shot that went wide, a Caldwell volley blocked and Novo heading a Kirk Broadfoot cross inches over. But as the clock ticked down, extra time looked to be inevitable.

The closing stages were frantic, fraught with tension as both sides relentlessly attacked and countered, but within one minute of the restart, Celtic took the lead in the most spectacular of circumstances.

Having grown in confidence as the game progressed it was Nakamura who set up the goal, dropping his free kick in around the penalty spot, where O’Dea had risen above a pack of Rangers players.

The Irishman met the ball perfectly, sending his looping header up and over McGregor and sparking bedlam in the stands.

Buoyed by this strike Celtic now poured forward and McDonald sent a good chance past the post after going by David Weir, Brown sending another drive inches over the bar and McGregor saving an attempt from Georgios Samaras with his leg.

Legs began to tire as the second half of extra time kicked off, with goal-hero O’Dea replaced by Mark Wilson, but still Celtic continued to force the more positive attacking play with McGeady dancing away from his markers and hitting the side netting with one attempt.

In the final minutes Celtic masterfully dealt with whatever Rangers threw their way and when McGeady raced into the box minutes into injury time, Broadfoot hauled him down and was shown a straight red.

McGeady then stepped up and put icing on the cake, sending McGregor the wrong way with his penalty.

When the final whistle sounded Hampden erupted in celebration, with this result also representing Celtic’s first cup final win over their derby rivals in 20 years.

Scottish League Cup Final

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hampden Park, Glasgow

CELTIC… 2

(O’Dea 90 +1, McGeady 120)

RANGERS… 0

MAN OF THE MATCH: Scott Brown

CELTIC (4-4-2) Boruc; Hinkel, Loovens, McManus, O’Dea (Wilson 106); Hartley (Samaras 72, Vennegoor of Hesselink 120), S Brown, Caldwell, Nakamura; McGeady, McDonald.

Subs: M Brown, Crosas.

RANGERS (4-5-1) McGregor; Whittaker, Broadfoot, Weir, Papac; Davis, Mendes, Ferguson, McCulloch (Dailly 82), Lafferty (Boyd 76); Miller (Novo 59).

Subs: Alexander, Edu.

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~ by awbroady on March 15, 2009.

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