Europa League ‘Celtic & Rangers Show They’re Not Just Flat-Track Bullies

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Europa League ‘Celtic & Rangers Show They’re Not Just Flat-Track Bullies

At the final whistle at Ibrox, Alfredo Morelos’ first emotions were those of frustration and not celebration. After time was called on a game that saw Rangers progress to the last 32 of the Europa League as an unseeded team courtesy of a late equaliser from Young Boys, the Colombian marched straight off the pitch and straight up the tunnel. He wasn’t in a mood to linger.

You have to presume that, once Morelos had a few moments to get over the annoyance of the rather fractious endgame, he would have seen the big picture. Rangers made it out of a group that few would have given them much hope of getting out of when the draw was originally made.

A club that couldn’t kick its own backside in Europe in the season before Steven Gerrard arrived as manager – they allowed Progres Niedercorn to do it for them – had now navigated its way through to the knockouts. It’s worth remembering that in Rangers’ dozen European games before Progres – dating back to 2010 – they didn’t win any of them. This was a very big moment for the Ibrox club.

They should have topped their Europa League pool, yes. They should be a seeded side in the last 32, no question. A late winner for Young Boys in the first meeting and a late leveller in their second proved costly for Rangers. When Monday’s draw takes place, they’ll come up against a side from the seeded half (Manchester United, Ajax, Arsenal, Sevilla among them) as opposed to the unseeded half (some options being Brugge, AZ, Getafe, Cluj).

Will that perturb them? A little, perhaps, but not a lot. What they did on Thursday was a cause for cheer. Rangers are due great credit for bouncing back from the angst of Sunday’s League Cup final. Morelos is due the greatest credit of all. A player who missed so many chances against Celtic, and who missed another decent one early on against Young Boys, brushed it all aside to get the pivotal goal. Again.

It was Morelos’ goal against Legia Warsaw that put Rangers into the group stage in the first place. It was Morelos’ goals – in five out of the six group games – that took them into the last 32. Morelos has scored more times in this competition than any other player this season. His first instinct might have been to react to Young Boys getting a point, but that feeling should have passed even before he’d taken his boots off. Morelos has been a giant for Rangers.

‘Time to acknowledge achievement’

The Glasgow teams had very different routes to the last 32, but they both made it and that’s a terrific boost to their own reputation and to Scotland’s coefficient. We are all weary of conducting post-mortems on the domestic game. We’ve blunted so many scalpels picking over the bones of failing clubs and a nightmarish national team. This is a time to sit back and acknowledge achievement and progress and hope.

Lazio, Rennes and Cluj; Porto, Feyenoord and Young Boys. Twelve games played against challenging European opposition and only two lost, one a dead rubber when a second-string Celtic lost to the Romanians on Thursday and one a Rangers defeat in Bern that only happened in the 93rd minute.

Celtic had their work done early. Lennon was in the most surreal position of being able to rest many of his senior guys for the trip to Cluj and go instead with a supporting cast – a mixture of players trying to rebuild their first-team prospects and youngsters taking their first steps on this stage.

Europa League ‘Celtic & Rangers Show They’re Not Just Flat-Track Bullies

Scott Robertson, 18, made his club debut, and Karamoko Dembele, 16, came off the bench. Lennon’s squad had players in it aged 16, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22. It is an unarguable truth, spoken by many a Celtic boss, that a manager at Parkhead is not allowed to lose a game without a storm ensuing. This was a rare exception. Celtic lost and the only reasonable way to react to it was to shrug. It didn’t matter.

Scots to fore in continental combat

https://www.bbc.com

What these European results do is validate everything that Celtic and Rangers are doing in the Premiership. With their superior budgets and their vast advantages over all other Scottish opposition it’s a given that Celtic, and now Rangers, will dominate at home.

Succeeding in the Europa League group stage shows that they’re not just flat-track bullies. There’s more to the pair of them than just beating up on Scottish teams with only a fraction of their resources.

Celtic’s progression has been rooted in Scottishness. Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and James Forrest have been the rocks. Lewis Morgan and Mikey Johnston have played their part and have scored along the way. In the 3-1 home win against Rennes, Celtic started with six Scots and brought two more off the bench.

Lennon is not just delivering results for club, he’s delivering options to his adopted country and its manager, Steve Clarke. He’s also attempting to rehabilitate Leigh Griffiths, not for just for Celtic’s own good but, by extension, for the good of Scotland, who are crying out for the striker to be restored to full throttle.

Ryan Jack is the only current Scotland international on the landscape at Ibrox, but his stature is growing all the time. Jack was visibly upset on Sunday when Rangers lost a final they should have won, but his way of dealing with it was deeply impressive. He put in another towering performance at the heart of Rangers midfield on Thursday.

Stronger What Doesn’t Kill You Kelly Clarkson

His first yellow ensured that he’ll miss the first leg of the next round, but it was one of those bookings that was deserving of admiration and not admonishment. He saw Young Boys had a chance to counter and he took one for the team by stopping it. His second yellow was cut from the same cloth.

They’ll miss him next time out, but the wider truth is that there might not be a next time out had it not been for his fight and his intelligence in the middle of the park.

Both clubs return to league action at the weekend, neither daring to blink, particularly Rangers who are two points behind and who have a tricky midday game at Motherwell on Sunday. Celtic have the comfort of a home game, and some freshness, albeit against an improving Hibs.

There’s a physical and mental grind ahead for the pair of them. No sleep until May.

Europa League ‘Celtic & Rangers Show They’re Not Just Flat-Track Bullies

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