Rangers must be wondering what they have to do to beat Celtic. And they might never have a better chance.

On a muggy afternoon at Hampden they matched the champions stride for stride, and in the second half, were even the better team. They had a goal disallowed, Abdallah Sima’s joy - and that of the 25,000 odd Rangers fans at that end of the national stadium - being cut short as it transpired that Nico Raskin had pushed Joe Hart under James Tavernier’s corner.

That included one topless gentleman who showed impressive agility to perform several cartwheels behind the goal, and who must have felt a little silly a minute or two later as he clambered back over the wall with a VAR check pending.

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But even after that blow, Rangers still came at Celtic, Philippe Clement eventually managing it seemed to concoct a plan to stymie Celtic’s main men and give his team a fighting chance. And Celtic looked tired as the second half wore on. Brendan Rodgers’ side seemed to be running on empty. If anyone was going to score, you fancied it would be Rangers.

But Celtic are champions - and have dominated the domestic scene for over a decade now - for a reason. Even when the chips are down, they have players who can tap into a seemingly endless reserve of courage and knowhow, and they invariably come out the other side holding the trophy aloft.

This time, it wasn’t the usual suspects like Callum McGregor, Matt O’Riley or Kyogo Furuhashi that stepped up to the plate, but two members of their supporting cast from the substitute’s bench. Paulo Bernardo produced the burst and shot that proved too hot for Jack Butland to handle, and Adam Idah was on hand to slam home in the dying embers of the 90 minutes.

Cue bedlam, as the Celtic end – which had become more muted as the game wore on - exploded and thousands of pairs of shoulders in the Rangers end simultaneously slumped in wearily familiar fashion. They had seen this movie before.

Indeed, the match was the season in microcosm. Celtic had a measure of dominance early on without being near their best. They wobbled at times. Rangers huffed and puffed, but they just couldn’t blow their rivals down. And just as in the title race, victory was there for the Ibrox men to reach out and grasp.

At the last, though, Celtic surged to kill them off, and it is they who again head off into the sunset with the silver.

The contest was more slow burner than barnstormer. Hampden crackled to the sound of fireworks beforehand, but they were absent on the pitch for the most part in terms of the football that was played. Instead, tension hung as heavily in the air as the thick plumes of smoke that billowed from both ends of the old bowl as the teams emerged.

Celtic were first to clear their heads, taking a hold of the ball without, admittedly, really doing all that much with it. And pitted against their plan to seize control was Rangers’ preference for chaos, being more direct whenever they nicked the ball back and trying to bring the physical mismatch between Dujon Sterling and Greg Taylor into play whenever they could.

Daizen Maeda was getting the better of James Tavernier (just for a change) too going the other way, and it was in these wide areas where the intrigue lay. The contest between Alistair Johnston and Fabio Silva, so compelling at Celtic Park recently, was evenly fought once again.

It was expected that the second half would continue as the first had ended, with Celtic dominating the ball and Rangers looking for the rope-a-dope. But as it wore on, it was Rangers who seemed to be growing in stature, while Celtic looked as though they were running out of energy and ideas.

They have been in scintillating form of late, but all of the verve and swagger was draining from their play. Had Sima’s goal stood – and the push from Raskin appeared unnecessary – then there surely would have been doubts about their capacity to recover.

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Mind you, it is when they are doubted that Celtic seem to find the answers. And just when it seemed as though they would have to drag their weary bodies through another half an hour of this, they came up with the moment that mattered. Perhaps avoiding extra time was the incentive they needed.

For Rangers, it was a case of so near, yet so far once again. It is something of a shame that Butland, their standout performer throughout the campaign, was the man who will be held responsible, spilling Bernardo’s shot into the path of Idah.

That Scott Wright allowed a pass to dribble under his foot to allow Celtic to spring the decisive attack, will likely be overlooked.

Rangers were relatively good, but not quite good enough. Celtic were poor by their own standards, but still emerged victorious.

So, Rangers may well wonder how they allowed this cup to slip from their grasp. But the truth is, just as in the league, it was Celtic who eventually showed the minerals to reach out and grab it.