CELTIC 2 RANGERS 0
Celtic cruised through to the Scottish League Cup final with a 2-0 win over Rangers at Hampden Park on a day when the gulf between the two traditional rivals was laid bare.
Hoops striker Leigh Griffiths headed the Premiership leaders into the lead from a Stefan Johansen cross in the 10th minute with Kris Commons driving in a second on the half-hour mark to effectively seal their place against Dundee United on March 15.
It was a comfortable victory for Ronny Deila’s side in the first meeting between the teams in almost three years since the Ibrox club re-emerged in the bottom tier of Scottish football following administration and liquidation.
Rangers went into the game still embroiled in seemingly endless boardroom battles and with no in end in sight to their financial woes.
Sitting second in the Championship with no guarantee of promotion, with caretaker boss Kenny McDowall having signalled his intent to leave at the end of the season and having recently sold their best young player, Lewis Macleod, Rangers were huge underdogs.
The Celtic camp, with a domestic treble on their minds and a Europa League last-32 clash against Inter Milan later this month, tried to play down talk from outside the camp of a huge winning margin but they could and perhaps should have inflicted more damage on a limited Light Blues side.
Some Hoops fans had recently taken out a newspaper advert claiming that Rangers were a new club but there was no mistaking the traditional Old Firm rivalries before kick-off.
There was bedlam inside Hampden which, while dealing with rivalry, passion and tribalism, heaved with no little hatred.
Right-back Mikael Lustig, midfielder Johansen and forward Anthony Stokes came in for Adam Matthews, Liam Henderson and John Guidetti, who all started on the bench.
From the team that started in the Championship match against Hearts which was abandoned due to the weather two weeks ago, McDowall brought in midfielder Ian Black for forward Jon Daly, who had to settle for a place among the substitutes, with experienced striker Kenny Miller asked to lead the line again.
The Premiership leaders took control from the first whistle, their early lead almost inevitable.
A simple cross into the middle from Johansen saw Griffiths get between Darren McGregor and Richard Foster and head past the helpless Gers goalkeeper Steve Simonsen, the Hoops striker running towards the Rangers fans in celebration, for which he earned a booking from referee Craig Thomson.
The Ibrox side struggled to get out of their own half and they escaped when a Lustig cross found Griffiths inside the box, this time the former Wolves player could not get enough power on his header.
The Parkhead side did not have to work hard for their chances. A mistake from Fraser Aird allowed Stokes an opportunity but his long-distance drive flew high over the bar.
And when midfielder Nicky Law dithered in the box under pressure from Celtic skipper Scott Brown, he ended up trying to lash the ball clear, succeeding only in setting up Commons who powered a drive from 20 yards high past Simonsen.
The Govan side were in disarray.
In the 39th minute Hoops stopper Virgil van Dijk missed a sitter by heading a Stokes corner over the bar from three yards out, before a great save from Simonsen defied Johansen.
McDowall replaced Aird with big Irish striker Daly for the start of the second-half but it was Simonsen who had to save from Commons’ drive within moments of the restart.
A Griffiths’ free-kick skipped wide of the target before the game became increasingly tetchy.
Rangers had no threat going forward, reduced to battling for mere seconds of possession before chasing again.
Celtic appeared to ease up, allowing the Light Blues something of a foothold in the game but there was no goal threat.
Guidetti replaced Griffiths in the 68th minute, James Forrest came on for Stokes and Miller was replaced by Nicky Law.
However, by then the game was petering out - Matthews came on for Lustig with six minutes remaining - and when the final whistle sounded, Hoops keeper Craig Gordon had not made a save.