Glasgow Rangers completed the first leg of a potential treble this afternoon defeating underdogs St. Mirren in the 50th Scottish League Cup final at Hampden Park, Glasgow. Walter Smith’s men rode their luck in the first half and were reduced to nine men in the second half but their quality came through in the end as an 84th minute winner from Kenny Miller secured Rangers a record extending 26th triumph in this competition.
The first half produced little goalmouth action for the first thirty minutes with Rangers’ Steven Whittaker having the first shot on target in the 25th minute but it failed to trouble St. Mirren keeper Paul Gallacher. Kenny Miller also had a chance on 34 minutes but his chance blazed high and wide after making a run through the middle into the penalty area. Saints’ first real chance came after Rangers’ keeper Neil Alexander mis-controlled the ball from a back pass and allowed Jack Ross to put in a sliding tackle but the ‘keeper was adjudged to have been fouled. For the last five minutes of the half Saints upped-the-ante with great chances from Steven Thomson, David Barron (whose long-range effort hit the bar) and Michael Higdon but all were unsuccessful and the Buddies were justifiably disappointed at going in goalless at half-time.
The game became contentious early in the second half with both teams getting physical. Rangers’ Kevin Thomson was the first player sent off after a rash tackle from behind on St. Mirren’s Steven Thomson. Even team coaches Walter Smith and Gus MacPherson were seen arguing on the touchline as both sides became embroiled in a slanging match. St. Mirren tried to take the game to the ten men of Rangers but it was the Scottish Premier League (SPL) leaders who had the next big chance in the 65th minute when a Nacho Novo free kick eventually found Kenny Miller amongst a melee of players in the penalty area but his shot was blocked five yards out by Michael Higdon. Six minutes later the Gers were down to nine men as defender Danny Wilson was shown the red card after a pull of the arm of Saints’ substitute Craig Dargo just outside the penalty area. However this seemed to make Rangers more determined to keep out the challenge from the Paisley side, who are second from bottom in the SPL, and when Steven Naismith came on as a 79th minute substitute for Kris Boyd it eventually proved to be the pivotal moment of the match. Five minutes after coming on Naismith ran with the ball from deep inside his own half leading the way in a three-against-three situation and his cross perfectly found the head of Kenny Miller who headed low into the bottom right corner of the net to give Rangers the lead. Saints pressed forward to get an equalizer but they couldn’t break down a resolute Rangers defence.
The final whistle blew and most of the 44,538 crowd would go home celebrating the first silverware of the season for Rangers with the SPL trophy almost certain to be joining it in the near future. With a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay against Dundee United to come there is still potential for Rangers to win an eighth domestic treble. For St. Mirren a battle against relegation is the basis for the rest of the season but the club can be proud of their efforts in their first domestic cup final since 1987 even if they eventually ended up empty-handed.
Should football pause for Christmas? Give me a break! Football in the UK is as much of a tradition as the Queen’s Speech, Mince Pies and Santa Claus and this weekend has been no exception. With further football to come in the next couple of days “Stoppage Time” takes a look back and looks forward to the action to come in our English and Scottish football festive round-up.
English Premier League leaders Chelsea got the ball rolling in their tough away tie at Birmingham City. Both sets of Blues had their chances to win but, in the end, perhaps a 0-0 draw was a fair result. The next game to finish was the important six pointer at the bottom of the table between West Ham and Portsmouth. The “Hammers” claimed a 2-0 home win over a Portsmouth side who had beaten Liverpool just seven days earlier. After the drama surrounding Mark Hughes’ sacking it was the football that took centre stage as Manchester City, under new coach Roberto Mancini, claimed a comfortable 2-0 win against Stoke City thanks to Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez. In the other games Liverpool got back to winning ways but only after their opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers had Stephen Ward sent off on 52 minutes. Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun scored the goals in a laboured 2-0 victory. Everton left it late to claim a point away at Sunderland. Marouane Fellaini scored with five minutes left on the clock to give Everton a share of the points after Darren Bent had given the Black Cats an early lead. The remaining three games finished as draws, a London derby between Fulham and Tottenham ended goalless whilst two clashes between North West clubs saw Burnley v Bolton and Wigan v Blackburn finish 1-1. In the Scottish Premier League Glasgow Celtic kept up their pursuit of champions and league leaders Glasgow Rangers with an 2-0 win at home to Hamilton. A last-minute strike from Niall McGinn made sure of the points as Celtic found it hard to finish their opponents off. Dundee United title hopes have dipped in the last couple of games. A 3-0 home defeat to Rangers was followed with a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Kilmarnock. Csaba Laszlo’s Hearts side kept up their recent upturn in form by beating Falkirk 1-0 away to lift them into fifth place. In the final match of the day newly promoted St. Johnstone claimed all three points in a 3-1 win at Motherwell. After struggling at the bottom of the table for many weeks the Saints now lie seventh in the SPL.
Although only a few matches were played on this day they all had some significance at the top of the table. In Scotland Hibernian were hoping to keep up a title challenge by beating champions Rangers and after twelve seconds the Edinburgh side were in dreamland as Anthony Stokes gave the home side a dramatic lead. However the champions came back after a difficult first twenty minutes. Rangers’ Kenny Miller (pictured) equalised after 21 minutes and top scorer Kris Boyd gave them the lead eight minutes before half-time. Any hopes of a Hibs comeback after the break were dashed as Nacho Novo increased Rangers lead on 53 minutes and Miller got his second of the game after 66 minutes. With no further scoring Rangers boss Walter Smith was delighted that his charges had opened up a four point lead over nearest challengers Celtic with Hibernian a further four points behind. In the English Premier League Arsenal were finding it difficult to break down a dogged Aston Villa side who have high hopes of a top four finish. However the introduction of Cesc Febragas in the second half proved the difference as his 25 yard free-kick on 65 minutes was followed by his second nine minutes before time. In the act of scoring his second the Spaniard injured himself and had to come off but the impact had already been made. Vassiriki Diaby made it 3-0 for the Gunners in stoppage time and Aston Villa’s hopes of beating all of the Big Four this season were temporarily halted (they’d already beaten Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United so far). At the KC Stadium champions Manchester United, despite Wayne Rooney giving away a penalty, were too strong against their opponents Hull City. United had the lead at half-time thanks to a stoppage time Wayne Rooney strike. After the break the United star’s pass back was significant in United giving away a penalty, converted by Craig Fagan to restore parity on the hour mark. After that it was Rooney who made the telling difference in the latter stages of the match. Rooney’s low cross into the box on 73 minutes was turned into the net by Hull City defender Michael Dawson to give United a 2-1 lead and the game was sealed after Rooney set up Dimitar Berbatov for Uited’s third goal. The win lifted United up to second place, just two points behind Chelsea, but Arsenal are two points behind United with a game in hand.
Today sees six games in the English Premier League with the most interesting being the West London derby between Chelsea and Fulham at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti’s men can’t afford too many more slip ups if they are to win their fourth championship title. Roy Hodgson’s Fulham go into the game unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions including a 3-0 demolition of Manchester United. The other fixtures are Tottenham v West Ham, Blackburn v Sunderland, Everton v Burnley, Stoke City v Birmingham City and the late kick-off at Molineux where Wolverhampton plays against Manchester City.
In England Aston Villa will hope to get over their drubbing at Arsenal by attempting to the double over Liverpool who have failed to win two matches in a row in the Premier League since September. The other game sees Bolton Wanderers and Hull City in a match that will have importance in the bottom half of the table. In Scotland there is just one game as Aberdeen play Falkirk at Pittodrie.
Two of the title contenders, Manchester United and Arsenal, will hope to increase their championship hopes with a win against Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth respectively. There are five matches in Scotland, the best of which involves champions Rangers at home to fourth place Dundee United. Celtic won’t want to lose points in what appears an easy game against second bottom Kilmarnock. The other games are St. Johnstone v Hibernian, Hamilton v St. Mirren and Hearts v Motherwell.