PENALTY saves, offside goals, sendings off, heroic rearguard efforts, the first Old Firm Cup final for eight years certainly didn’t disappoint. These two sides have been going toe-for-toe in the Ladbrokes Premiership all season and yesterday they served up an encounter as enthralling as any in the series. Did the better team lose? Perhaps, but the only thing that mattered last night was that Celtic had eked out their tenth trophy in a row, despite playing more than 40 minutes with ten men. It may be harsh to call James Tavernier a “serial loser”, as Chris Sutton did in the lea-up to the game, but they are serial winners alright. What did we learn on a day when these two Glasgow giants delivered a modern classic of the genre?


The giant Englishman was emotional when he earned a Europa League win against Lazio recently but it turned out he was just getting started. At times yesterday, his was a one-man rearguard effort to keep Celtic in the cup. While he parried a long ranger brilliantly away from a Ryan Jack effort, he mainly tormented the efforts of Alfredo Morelos to score his maiden Old Firm match. Twice he was equal to close range driven angled strikes from the Colombian in the first period, while another squirmed away from his body and was hacked clear by Jonny Hayes. He beat out another header from the Rangers talisman, then produced the piece de resistance as he dive o his right to defy Morelos’ poorly aimed spot kick. Eleven matches, no goals against Celtic for the Colombian. Their bizarre Indian sign against them continues.


It only served to compound Rangers’ misery that the goal which won Celtic the cup was offside and would have been picked up fairly easily had yesterday’s officiating team had the use of video technology. With Odsonne Edouard, just on the field from the bench, getting clattered by Connor Goldson, no fewer than three Celtic players – Kris Ajer, Edouard and goalscorer Christopher Jullien - were in offside positions and had failed to re-establish themselves when Ryan Christie swung over the cross. It was a bad miss from the linesman, but Scottish football has to get serious about preventing injustices like this.


Was a game like this too big for the youngster? At times in that first half, with Rangers dominant and Celtic struggling to get their star men on the ball, this 18-year-old right back seemed to take his team on his shoulders like a grizzled veteran. Okay, so a high ball to the far post gave him some trouble, but this wee man was getting on the ball, pushing high up the park, and using his core strength to protect the ball from the likes of Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent. He tormented Glen Kamara to the extent the Finland midfielder saw the game’s first yellow for tugging him back. But get the power of Morelos against him one-on-one and he struggled. Exposed for one chance, he let the Colombian get the wrong side again, hauling him back to concede a penalty and leave Willie Collum with little option other than to send him off.


First balls, second balls, the Ibrox side were first to them all in that first period. You could go back some time to see a domestic match where Celtic had taken such a first half battering, with many of their star men just weren’t at the races, while Scott Arfield’s presence giving them a numerical advantage alongside Jack, Joe Aribo and Glen Kamara. Attempting to retrieve one of his own errors, Jack sprinted 50 yards to win the ball back from Lewis Morgan, taking what looked like a serious gash on his troublesome left knee in the process. He somehow managed to play out the 90 minutes only for his day to end in heartbreak, being console d by manager Steven Gerrard. But when all is said and done, Rangers played better against eleven men than they did against ten.


Neil Lennon would have wanted his side to have played better but coming through an occasion like this with ten men only emphasised the character in this Celtic side. While it should be noted that they should have had a second when sub Mikey Johnston was released by Edouard but fired wide one-on-one, at times this was about strength of will rather than anything else. By contrast it is hard to imagine a more demoralising way for Rangers to come up short, slap bang in the middle of their efforts to wrest back the Premiership title and stop Celtic racking up nine-in-a-row. Now it is the Ibrox side who face a test of character to come out the other side of it.