Beale defends midfield selection as Rangers lose to Celtic in Viaplay cup final

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Rangers manager Michael Beale believes he picked the correct starting XI despite a 2-1 defeat in this season’s league cup final.

The Ibrox side lined up with John Lundstram in the middle of the pitch with Malik Tillman and Glen Kamara either side of him. It was Lundstram’s first match in three weeks after coming off injured in the league game against Ross County.

Despite impressive performances from new January window signings Nicolas Raskin and Todd Cantwell in recent weeks, Beale stuck with his tried and tested team and formation.

The Blues gaffer told reporters in his post-match media conference: “That same team played ever so well in the Old Firm at New Year. They played the best performance since I come back away at Hearts and on that night it was excellent.

“You’ve got two players who have come into the club and have played two-and-a-half games each against opponents where you’ve got the ball. There was a little bit more we had to do today defensively and also match legs.

“I just felt at that moment I needed to shake the tree a little bit and try something.”

However, he found his players 2-0 down after 56 minutes thanks to two goals from Kyogo Furuhashi.

Celtic nick it in the first half

A scrappy first-half saw little chances for both teams, with Rangers first half-chance coming when John Lundstram saw his driven effort blocked after 13 minutes. Seven minutes later Celtic responded by testing Allan McGregor for the first time who was forced to save Jota’s left-footed effort from 20 yards out – it was heading towards the bottom left corner.

Rangers’ best chance came on the half-hour mark when Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent linked up on the edge of the box resulting in a James Tavernier’s low cross that was aimed at Tillman, but Hoops defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, was there to put it out for a corne.

And it was Carter-Vickers’ side that ended the half much the better team

After a couple of close efforts, the cup-holders had the ball in the net through the club’s top scorer Kyogo Furuhashi. Reo Hatate and Aaron Mooy combined in midfield before Greg Taylor sent a low ball across Rangers’ box. Maeda could not make a proper connection, but Celtic’s number 8 was left with a tap-in to send their fans into euphoria.

Rangers come out fighting in the second half

The second-half started much quicker, with the American Tillman doing well 50 minutes in and driving at Celtic’s defence before he found Ryan Kent, whose effort beat Joe Hart only to bounce off the post and with tame Fashion Sakala effort from the rebound could only find the side-netting.

John Lundstram was the first name in referee Nick Walsh’s book shortly after, when he fouled Aaron Mooy with a cynical stamp.

But the early pressure didn’t pay off for the Ibrox side and in the 56th minute Kyogo grabbed his and Celtic’s second and half of Hampden erupted yet again. This time, Postecoglou’s side capitalised from a loose Tavernier pass and McGregor and Mooy fired two quick passes together which found Reo Hatate slotting in the Japanese striker for his second tap-in of the day.

As any chance of a Rangers turnaround became slimmer, the tackles became slacker, and not long after Celtic’s second Glen Kamara found himself joining his midfield partner with a yellow card, after he fouled Hatate.

Hope was renewed for the Scottish Cup holders when in the 64th minute, Alfredo Morelos turned home James Tavernier’s free-kick just off the left hand side of the box. This was the Colombian’s third goal against Rangers’ fiercest rivals and one that the striker relished following his many physical and confrontational past encounters.

Beale eventually changed the midfield making way for Cantwell and Raskin their first taste of an Old-Firm derby as he attempted to claw back the game, whilst Hyung Gu Oh and Tomoki Iwata were given the same chance by Ange Postecoglou as Celtic looked to kill the game off.

Celtic players celebrate with the trophy

Victory in sight

Substitute Sead Haksabanovic had two clear cut chances for the Parkhead giants, forcing Allan McGregor into a good stop before sending an effort just past the post.

Celtic held out to win their 6th League Cup in the last 7 seasons and Postecoglou’s third cup in only four attempts since his move to Glasgow in the summer of 2021.

The Aussie couldn’t hide his delight and admiration for his players once he emerged to speak to the media saying that he was, “very pleased and obviously very proud” of his side, calling it “a great day for the football club”.

“Everything we got in the last 18 months since I’ve been here, a bit longer now, we’ve earnt through hard work and real belief within the group. I take great pride in that.”

Beale left to think again

Beale admitted that his side, “didn’t come to the game until the second-half” as he told his players after the match: “Suck it up.”

The 42-year-old, who faced defeat for his first time since taking the hot seat in December, admitted: “We still need to recruit, we need to work out one or two players’ futures.

“When you play a game and for a third of it, you’re second best, clearly second best, you give yourself a mountain to climb.”

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