This could be regarded as gallant progress.
The sixth Old Firm games of the season contained six yellow cards and one red; on the previous meeting of these foes 13 bookings were issued, three players were sent off and a touchline bust‑up followed the full-time whistle. And to think this match lasted half an hour longer than the 2 March meeting of Celtic and Rangers.
Police officers attended the training grounds of both clubs last week to warn players about their on-field responsibilities and behaviour. If that at all influenced a gripping final, police intervention into football business should be encouraged rather than frowned upon. In among the bog standard Old Firm menu of unsavoury chanting and frantic fare, some football broke out. Whisper it, but it was a decent advert for the ailing Scottish game.
Rangers, widely written off before a Hampden Park ball was kicked, continued their love affair with a competition they have won almost twice as many times as Celtic, courtesy of an extra-time win they merited. For the loser, there is the pain attached to underperformance on an occasion when they could have taken something of value from their old foes.
Still, had Rangers not secured the trophy in this, Walter Smith's last final as their manager, matters of officialdom would have dominated post-match discussion. With the scores locked at 1-1 the referee, Craig Thomson, handed Smith's men a 33rd-minute penalty which he overturned within seconds. "It is dangerous for a referee to do that, isn't it?" said the Rangers manager after the dust had settled. "If it had happened in the other penalty box, well, I don't know."
The final sentiment was a dig at Celtic, who Smith believes have sought to mask shortcomings by aiming fire at referees. "I said before, when Celtic mounted their campaign, that if your team is good enough then they will win," he said. "Regardless of refereeing decisions today, we were good enough."
The referee explained in private that he had anticipated an illegal challenge from Thomas Rogne on Nikica Jelavic; when that was not forthcoming, Thomson held his hands up and admitted his error. Although Rogne did connect slightly with Jelavic's knee, the official ultimately arrived at the right decision.
By that juncture, Rangers had already flirted more with the Celtic goal than at any stage in the two derbies which recently preceded the final. Steven Davis illustrated that with the opening goal, a low hit from 18 yards for which Celtic's goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, was at fault.
Celtic had been sloppy before Joe Ledley hauled them back into the game with a header from Georgios Samaras's flick-on. Neil Lennon's hopes that the interventions of Ledley would rouse his team proved optimistic, with Celtic remaining sluggish throughout most of the second period. The creative force of Kris Commons was non-existent, with Gary Hooper also failing to display any of his unquestionable talent in the Celtic attack.
Yet Rangers did not offer much in terms of clear-cut chances to imply that punishment for inadequacy would follow. Smith bemoaned the non-award of another penalty after the ball struck Mark Wilson's arm, with Thomson this time certain of his decision. Forster atoned for his earlier generosity with a stunning save to flick a deflected free-kick from Jelavic over the crossbar early in extra-time. The striker's threat had been acknowledged by Lennon, who withdrew the centre-half Rogne before the end of the 90 minutes.
The young Norwegian's replacement, Glenn Loovens, bodychecked Vladimir Weiss in the run-up to the winning goal. As Weiss took the resultant set-play swiftly, the Celtic defence were somewhere between dazed and confused in allowing Jelavic to surge past them, the Croat subsequently slotting past Forster. Rangers had kept El-Hadji Diouf out of things for 115 minutes – maybe that was one of the recommendations made to them by Strathclyde police – but the controversial Senegalese did appear from the bench. Within 60 seconds of his arrival, Diouf had raised the caution count for his latest act of simulation. Emilio Izaguirre put a smattering of red on that disciplinary report after taking out the rampaging Weiss on the halfway line. The reasoning for that act was that Forster was stranded in the Rangers half, territory he had entered to attack Celtic's last corner kick.
Suddenly Lennon and his players faced the stark realisation that a domestic treble is impossible. Unlike the moment of his previous exit from Ibrox, in 1998, Smith will not preside over a barren season.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010