You can imagine the scene in the Rangers inner-sanctum. The stats guys plug in Calvin Bassey’s GPS monitor and download his numbers from this cup that was 2-0 going on five and six-nil, a set of figures so stratospherically high that the laptop sizzles and explodes under the weight of the data.
“The man mountain,” as former Ibrox manager Alex McLeish described him, was out on his own as the final’s best player, so much so that when they were dishing out the medals, they should have given him two of them. It wasn’t just the quality of his work, it was the joy on his face while doing that work that lit the place up.
One hundred minutes into the Europa League final in the dead heat of Seville on Wednesday night, Bassey was the one tracking back and hounding Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ansgar Knauff out of possession. One hundred minutes into this Hampden final, he was flying up his left wing in support of a Rangers attack.
One hundred and fourteen minutes saw him stretch his calf on the touchline, an episode that made you wonder if he was actually made of flesh and bone after all rather than being put together in a lab some place.
To be fair, it was a quick stretch. Two minutes later, he snuffed Hearts out and won a throw-in. In the 119th minute, he won another throw-in, two minutes after that, 121 minutes now, he was involved again. All of a sudden, he gave the impression of a fresh player. The Duracell Bunny must run on Calvin batteries.
He covered every blade of grass with such gusto that you wondered at times how many of him were actually out there. Defending astutely, attacking dangerously, whipping in precise crosses that presented golden chances that were missed.
Watching from the distance, the injured Alfredo Morelos must have salivated at the service being offered. This was one of the most accomplished and effervescent performances we’ve seen from an individual in a Scottish Cup final for quite some time.
At the end, he dropped to his knees and gave thanks, then rose up and scampered off to be with the Rangers supporters, his arms windmilling, his face beaming. Bassey is 22, that’s the phenomenal thing. He’s a player of massive potential, a guy who will have his suitors in the summer if anybody down south or beyond is paying attention.
How Rangers folk will hope that the radars of the monied ones have slipped. Bassey is a talent they’ll want to savor for a while yet.
They did it at last, then. So many years and so many failed cracks at winning another Scottish Cup, but that odyssey ended on Saturday. It went to extra time, which would have been entirely unnecessary had Rangers not been so wasteful and Craig Gordon not been so Craig Gordon.
Bassey put over a lovely cross to Joe Aribo in the 38th minute, but Aribo headed over. Bassey put over another lovely cross to Amad Diallo in the 42nd minute, but Diallo put it over. Bassey, himself, had a crack in the 75th minute, but Gordon saved. Just before the end of normal time, Aribo had pulled his shirt and should have had a penalty but still got his shot away, which, guess what, Gordon saved brilliantly. Then, Scott Wright’s header clipped the top of the bar.
Hearts arrived with hope despite losing three and drawing one against Rangers this season. Ellis Simms hit the post when he should have hit the net after 10 minutes and from that point on the life was drained out of them by a Rangers team not just playing their second 120-minuter in four days but getting stronger and stronger as the time ticked by.
It was their 65th game of the season. It didn’t look it.
The underdogs barely managed a growl, not to mind a bark. They had injury concerns coming into this but John Souttar and Craig Halkett both started and both played well, so that’s no excuse for the one-sided nature of it. The fact that it went to extra time was bizarre, but it did and Rangers dealt with it.
Jack thundered one into the roof of Gordon’s net – the Hearts goalkeeper appeared affronted that somebody had the nerve to beat him – and then Wright made it two. Rangers broke on the counter through Ryan Kent. The winger had Wright outside him, who finished precisely. They were like the cavalry coming over the hilltop – there was just no stopping them.
There could have been more. Kent, Fashion Sakala, Kent again and Glen Kamara had potshots, some misdirected, some kept out by the remarkable Gordon.
Before the end, there was that almost Hollywoodesque moment when Allan McGregor replaced Jon McLaughlin. It looked like Wednesday in Seville was McGregor’s swansong but nobody at Ibrox was having that. They felt his story demanded a happy ending, and so it was written. McGregor appeared, played the last few minutes and was allowed to walk off into the sunset with a medal around his neck. Hi Ho, Silverware.
It’s easy to say that Rangers deserved to win a trophy, that their season demanded it, that it would have been cruel on them had they ended their campaign with nothing tangible to show for it. All of that is true, but they had to go and earn it. It wasn’t going to be handed to them on a plate, like some pity prize.
They had to haul themselves off the floor after Wednesday, they had to tweak their team to freshen it up. Giovanni van Bronckhorst had a tactical and psychological job to do. His medical staff had a physical job to do. Ultimately, it was the players who had the biggest job of all.
Whether they chose to think about it or not, the specter of a trophyless season existed, just as real and foreboding as the merciless flak that would have gone their way had they not won the cup. They don’t need to worry about that now. It’s not the trophy they wanted most of all this week, but Ibrox has not exactly been loaded down with baubles these past years. This will do, for now.
What’s ahead? McGregor, you have to imagine, is about to retire. Connor Goldson, it looks certain, is about to leave. Loan players will return to their parent clubs. Some stellar names are in the final year of their contract and might be sold. Ahead of the Champions League qualifiers and the beginning of a new domestic season there will be comings and goings.
That’s for the weeks ahead. Right now, they could do with a rest. After a marathon season, they’ve earned a lie down before rising up and going again.