He scored the winner with his last kick. And the hour of play that separated these two strikes was hugely satisfying for Maurice Edu.
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The 23-year-old American’s first touch when coming on to replace Lee McCulloch at Ibrox yesterday was to volley impressively past Artur Boruc from the edge of the penalty box. Unfortunately for the Rangers midfielder, referee Dougie McDonald had already blown his whistle to penalise a hand ball from Kenny Miller.
But Edu would not be denied and scored from close-range after Boruc had spilled a Madjid Bougherra shot, prompting a scramble in the Celtic six-yard box.
Edu, who travels today to join his international team-mates for the match in Amsterdam on Wednesday against the Netherlands, has endured a season marked by injury and controversy. A knee problem has cost him a sustained run in the team but he was wounded, too, by racial abuse after Rangers were defeated by 4-1 by Unirea Urziceni at Ibrox in October. The midfielder revealed the taunts, which he suffered after a match he missed through injury, on his Twitter page.
Yesterday, he reflected on a more joyful side of the game as his introduction was followed by a solid display and a glittering goal.
“It’s the best feeling,” he said in the Ibrox tunnel after the victory that sees Rangers go 10 points clear at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table. “For me, with everything that has gone on with injuries, to get back into the side, well, that was good itself. But to get the game winner was unbelievable,” said the Californian whose path to Ibrox has included spells at Maryland Terrapins and Toronto FC.
Edu, has broken into the US national team which is preparing for a World Cup adventure that will include England. He said: “This is the most exciting moment of my career.”
The midfielder came on to replace McCulloch who collapsed with an ankle injury. “I tried to keep things simple at first and tried to ease my way into the game,” said Edu, ignoring the explosive impact of his immediate strike. “It is a while since I had a run of games. As the game went on, I became more comfortable.”
This comfort was given a grandstand finale as Edu watched the ball bobbled around the Celtic box in the final minute of the match. “It was weird,” he said of watching Boruc deny Rangers three times in quick succession. “I was waiting, waiting, waiting and I just tapped it in. It was not the trickiest goal but I’ll take it.”
He said of his disallowed strike: “It was a crazy rush of emotion from excitement to disappointment. That’s football. You have a lot of highs and lows and you can not let it overwhelm you.”
This philosophy helped him when dealing with injury and the racial taunts. “You have times when things are hard to deal with but you find a way to get on with it.”
That progress demands a mental strength and Edu claims it is an attribute that marks this Rangers team. He said of the run-in: “The team has the motivation, the desire. You have to show it every day when you walk on the pitch. The boys will be up for it.”