There’s no such thing as a meaningless Glasgow derby. But when the two sides are drawn together in the early stages of a cup, it feels just a little more special. And this game did not disappoint. Action, drama, controversy, it had everything.
Only five weeks after a 2- 0 win at Ibrox, Celtic returned to the south side in a very different frame of mind. In January they came as underdogs, injury concerns and suspensions having robbed Neil Lennon of more than half a team.
But now with players coming back, the addition of Kris Commons in the transfer window and a run of scintillating form, Celtic were arguably the favourites.
The team line ups were always going to be interesting. The home side were without the injured Lee McCulloch. Nikica Jelavic was the sole striker with controversial signing El Hadji Diouf also starting.
For Celtic, Daniel Majstorovic returned from injury with Ki, back from the Asian Cup, coming into a midfield role.
It was Rangers who started the better. From an early corner the ball fell to Ness on the edge of the box and his left foot shot went through a defender’s legs and found the top corner with Forster in the Celtic goal unsighted.
Rangers then sat back and Celtic dominated possession, coming close through a Ledley shot and then a Wilson header.
Neil Lennon made an early tactical change, switching Ledley to the left with Commons supporting Hooper. And on 15 minutes it paid off as Ledley broke on the left to set up Commons who finished well for a derby debut equaliser.
Celtic controlled the game, dominating possession and playing good passing football. But controversy is never far away in a Glasgow derby.
Naismith, who had already dived once in the box, was sent through on goal. As Forster came towards him he had one thing in his mind: to go to ground and win a penalty. And referee Murray duly obliged, producing a red card for the Celtic keeper although the ball was heading away from goal.
Whittaker put the penalty past Zaluska, who had come on for Commons, to give Rangers the lead once more. So Rangers led 2 – 1 at the break.
In the second half, the home team sat back and invited Celtic onto them, hoping to play on the break. Neil Lennon made a second change just after the hour mark, taking off midfielder Kayal and replacing him with the hero of the last Ibrox win, Samaras.
And minutes later Celtic were level. The ball came to Celtic captain Scott Brown and his superb curling shot on his weaker left foot beat a stranded McGregor.
Celtic continued to press and only a brilliant save from McGregor stopped Samaras from scoring. Then Rangers numerical advantage disappeared as Naismith received a second yellow card for his third dive of the day.
It was the visitors who continued to play the better football, pressing for the winner. And Samaras was wrongly called offside when clean through on goal. But there was not to be a fifth goal, and the game eventually finished in a 2 – 2 draw.
Scott Brown was man of the match for me, with a superb, tireless performance in the midfield that dominated the game. But in truth there were many candidates, all of them wearing green and white.
Celtic will be disappointed not to have won this game, despite being behind twice and a man down for so long. But a replay at Celtic Park is a decent reward for a fine day’s work.
There will be seven Glasgow derbies this season. And Celtic will be the more confident side for the clashes to come.