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Rangers v Celtic: 2011 League Cup final remembered by those who played in it

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Weir captained Rangers against current skipper Brown’s Celtic
Scottish League Cup final: Rangers v Celtic
Venue: Hampden Park Date: Sunday, 8 December Time: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen live on BBC Radio Scotland and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport Scotland website and app.

A “crazy” season, a managerial great’s triumphant swansong, and a rookie boss manoeuvring a Glasgow power shift.

The last final between Rangers and Celtic – the 2011 Scottish League Cup – packed plenty of intrigue.

It was current Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s first final in his initial stint in charge, and Walter Smith’s last as Rangers boss, with the Ibrox side prevailing 2-1 after extra-time.

As the Old Firm prepare to go head to head in Sunday’s showpiece, we speak to two players from each team eight-and-a-half years on from that Hampden occasion.

Rangers on a revenge mission

If familiarity breeds contempt, then the two clubs couldn’t stand the sight of each other. The final was the sixth of seven Old Firm derbies that season, and came just two weeks after a “shame game” Scottish Cup replay which Rangers lost 1-0 at Celtic Park and had three men sent off. Of the four derbies since the turn of the year, Celtic had won three and drawn one.

Rangers captain David Weir: “We had lost at Celtic in the league and cup and got a lot of criticism. So it was important we didn’t lose to them in the cup final because they would have been in the ascendancy and had the momentum for the league. You’re only ever two or three games away from a crisis at Rangers. If you lose a couple of games it’s the end of the world.

Celtic playmaker Kris Commons: “I had only joined Celtic in January that year, and already faced Rangers three times. The games were relatively comfortable. Without sounding too over-confident or arrogant, I just thought if this the level of Rangers then we will beat them. I thought we had a much better team and squad than them.

Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu: “That season was crazy because there were so many Old Firm games. After the Scottish Cup defeat, revenge was on my mind. You are up for the game because it means so much. So much is said about it among the players, we read about it in the press, you walk around the city centre and fans are approaching you to make sure you know how important these games are.”

‘A real eye-opener’ and dreading penalties

Rangers opened the scoring midway in the first half through Steven Davis, who along with Allan McGregor remains part of the current squad. Joe Ledley headed Celtic level soon after and the sides remain deadlocked in 90 minutes before Nikica Jelavic settled it in extra-time.

Jelavic’s strike in extra-time proved decisive

Commons: “I was 27 but it was my first cup final. I had a bunch of tickets, got all my family and friends up. And it’s probably the first game where it hit me that you can’t have any off days at Celtic. I remember coming away thinking that won’t happen again. It was a real eye-opener for me. It was the first time in my career where I was actually looking for other people to come up with a bit of magic. But a lot of players didn’t really turn up. I was half glad to be substituted a few minutes into extra-time because I was having no impact.

Celtic right-back Mark Wilson: “Davis’ shot from the edge of the box wasn’t a clean hit. It was one of those that nine times out of 10 doesn’t go in. As soon as Ledley equalised I thought, ‘Right, now we’ll roll over the top of them’. But we just couldn’t get that goal to put us ahead. And to lose it to a goal like Jelavic’s was incredible. I’ve yet to see another goal like it – the ball hits the post then comes out and spins a yard or so the other side of the line and then spins in the net. After that, we threw everything at them and were dying on our legs at the end and Emilio Izaguirre got sent off.

Edu: “That was a weird game, I ended up playing right-back in the latter stages because there was an injury. Going into extra time, when you have players like Jelavic – who was in incredible form that season – you always have you have a chance to score goals and get the upper hand. We had a quality team from back to front that season.”

Weir: “In terms of extra-time, we were just thinking, ‘We need to win.’ Personally, I didn’t want it to go to penalties. I’m not a penalty taker and don’t enjoy being involved in them. I wanted to avoid that. We had guys in that team like Jelavic, Davis, Steven Naismith, who you want with you in that situation. We were a good group and would back ourselves to get a result when the pressure was on.”

Rangers’ final win completed the first of a trophy double in 2010-11

‘One of the lowest points of my Celtic career’

Edu: “We hung out together away from the pitch as well and that helped us be successful. When you sweat and bleed together, and go through the emotional rollercoaster in a game like that, you have to celebrate. And we were a team who knew how to do that. We definitely enjoyed that moment and made the most of the celebrations.

Kris Commons: “When Rangers were celebrating with the trophy, and you see all the red, white and blue in the stands, it makes you realise I’ve let myself down and my club down. That’s one of the lowest points of my Celtic career.”

Mark Wilson: “It was just silence in the dressing room afterwards. Old Firm games, when you lose them and just want to go home, shut the door and not speak to anybody. But cup finals, when you lose them you need to stand on the pitch and watch the other team celebrate. Seeing the Rangers fans partying, it’s not an easy thing to suck it up.”

The managerial factor

Smith had announced at the start of the campaign it was to be his last in charge, and he crowned it with a trophy double as his side pipped Celtic to the league title by a point. But it remains their last major silverware, with financial implosion looming as Celtic began a period of dominance.

Edu: “Walter was the manager who signed me, so I had an incredible amount of respect for him. His presence was felt whenever he walked into a room. He had a way of getting the best out of us. All of us felt a sense of ‘We need to make sure his last season is special’. A manager who has done so much for the club and for each of us individually, you never want their tenure to end on a sour note. So it was important for us to win it for him.

Weir: “We were mindful of the fact it was Walter’s last season and the respect we all had for him and everything he’d done for the club. Walter’s situation gave us even more motivation.”

Commons: “I’m not sure the final had a bearing on us losing the league. It’s fine details, so you can’t pin it down to one moment. There was a definite feeling of something building at Celtic that season and the power beginning to shift away from Rangers. Lennon had put together the nucleus of a very strong team.”

Wilson: “That season is one of my fondest memories, even though we only ended up with the Scottish Cup to show for it. Lennon had brought in players who were top quality, I loved playing in that team and there was a sense of something building. There was a lull before that with Tony Mowbray and a disconnect with the fans, and Neil brought the passion and fire back. After that disappointment, the club went on an incredible run and Scott Brown has been there throughout. That’s where it all started.”

Parallels with 2019 final

Gerrarnd and Lennon are vying for Scottish League Cup glory on Sunday

Edu: “I think Rangers can spring a surprise on Sunday. They will be no different to how we were in 2011. The Rangers players will go into this game feeling very confident. You’ve got to this point by showing you’re a quality team. Steven Gerrard has come in and done a great job, he’s found a way to get them firing on all cylinders and closer and closer to being the best club in Scotland. This is another chance for them to edge closer to reaching their goal, which is to win the league. But getting a trophy over Celtic is a huge step in the right direction.”

Commons: “They are two very good squads and both doing well in Europe, toe to toe in the league. With the Old Firm derby in the league just before the new year, it’s a mouthwatering few weeks that could really define the season for Neil Lennon and Steven Gerrard. If Odsonne Edouard is fit, then I think Celtic will win. But going back to that 2011 final, if you don’t turn up then either team can win it.”

Weir: “I genuinely think Rangers will win. It will be tight, one goal in it, but I can see Rangers winning 2-1. It’s an entirely separate entity, so I don’t think it will have any impact on the league.”

Wilson: “I do fancy Celtic. They’re easing to victory and blowing teams away. I’ll go for Celtic 2-1. Neil is pretty calm in the build-up to Old Firm games. There is a perception that he growls and snarls all week because it’s a Rangers game, but he’s not like that at all. He sees the full picture, he’s very well prepared. He understands what these games mean to the club and can drum that into the players. He’s also very good tactically. And in these big games, he often comes out on top.”

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