It was unlikely and, for Celtic fans, unthinkable but ‘The’ Rangers overcame an insipid Celtic side on penalties in the Scottish Cup semi-final to surely bring an end to Ronny Deila’s reign as Hoops manager.
The drama of a 2-2 draw after extra-time and a penalty shoot-out victory for Mark Warburton’s side may be seen as a shot in the arm for Scottish football by many, but it is yet another indication of the shambolic management of the Scottish champions since they reached the last 16 of the Champions League in 2012-13.
The liquidation of Rangers FC in 2012 served as a warning for teams to be more careful with their finances but Celtic’s caution has seen them regress from Champions League giant killers to a pale imitation of the team that Neil Lennon led to victory over Barcelona in 2012.
Inevitably, many fingers are pointing at Deila and it is clear that, following such a calamitous defeat, the Norwegian cannot reasonably survive.
After a promising second half to his first season at Celtic, fans believed in the man who had achieved success by leading little-known Stromsgodset to the Norwegian title.
Unfortunately for Deila, this season has seen no evidence of progress. In Europe, a gutless performance in Malmo saw the team lose the opportunity to compete in the Champions League.
The Europa League brought more embarrassment as the side finished bottom of a group, topped by Molde FK – a Norwegian side that defeated the Bhoys twice, despite finishing sixth in their domestic league.
The unwise selection of the unreliable Efe Ambrose had disastrous results in the League Cup semi-final when the Nigerian conceded a penalty and was red-carded just 13 minutes into the game for a rash challenge.
Ross County went on to win 3-1 and end Celtic’s hopes of a treble.
League form has been indifferent all season and, unlike 2014-15 when the Hoops won all four SPL encounters agains the Dons, challengers Aberdeen have beaten Celtic two times out of three this season.
This form may yet be enough to secure the league title but it will not be enough for Celtic fans to believe that Deila is taking them in the right direction.
The signings of Carlton Cole and Colin Kazim-Richards have been two of the most outlandish moves of recent times and, predictably, neither has made an impact.
Compared to 2014-15, only three players have shown improvement. Leigh Griffiths has become a more deadly striker and was extremely unlucky not to kill off the Rangers’ challenge when his late free-kick hit the bar in the semi-final.
Left-back Kieran Tierney has been incredible in his debut season but Deila has even managed to handle this one badly.
Rather than letting the 18-year-old develop steadily, the Celtic boss has suggested that Tierney can become ‘world class’, piling undue pressure on the youngster.
Australian Tom Rogic has also been impressive in the past year, scoring some great goals, including the extra-time equaliser against Rangers.
Despite this form, Deila opted to keep him on the bench for the first 84 minutes, keeping faith with the ineffective Stefan Johansen – one of the most disappointing Celtic players this season.
Apart from this trio, no other players have improved. Emilio Izaguirre has lost his left-back place to Tierney due to his sub-standard performances.
Johansen has been consistently poor and Nir Bitton – who started the season as the next star expected to move to England’s top tier – has been a shadow of the 2014-15 model.
The years may be starting to take their toll on captain Scott Brown and midfielders Gary MacKay-Steven and Gary Armstrong – signed by Deila – have shown no signs of having the ability to take Celtic to the next level.
In short, Celtic have gone backwards with Deila at the wheel. The Scottish Cup semi-final was an opportunity to demonstrate that he had the ability to spur them to victory in the biggest game of the season.
Like previous big games in Europe and against Aberdeen, Deila’s men failed miserably.
The Hoops allowed Rangers to take the initiative in the first half and they deservedly took the lead through Kenny Miller.
Celtic showed enough urgency at the beginning of the second period to level through Erik Sviatchenko after sustained pressure.
Rather than going on to hammer home their superiority, the Hoops allowed their opponents back into the game and it ended 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Barrie McKay’s stunning strike put Rangers ahead in extra-time before Rogic levelled matters again to allow Celtic an opportunity to edge into the final on penalties.
Two Rangers misses were matched by Celtic misses and the unfortunate Rogic skied over to allow Warburton’s side into the final.
Celtic supporters were generally magnanimous in defeat. In their devastation, most acknowledged that their opponents had deserved it.
Deila’s men had lacked the necessary composure, skill and motivation to come through a huge game against lower division opponents.
This was not the first time that Celtic have been accused of such failings this season and, as a result, Ronny Deila is on borrowed time. Many fans blame the club ownership and it is clear that they are not without fault.
However, a manager who has consistently failed to get the best out of his team must be the first casualty in this sorry tale for a proud club.