Monday 23 October 2017

Thrilling finale the perfect end for treble-winning Hoops

Celtic 2 Aberdeen 1

Celtic captain Scott Brown lifts the cup. Photo: PA Wire
Celtic captain Scott Brown lifts the cup. Photo: PA Wire

Ewan Murray at Hampden Park

Brendan Rodgers and Celtic are history makers. When anyone claims winning trophies in Scotland is akin to defeating a hamster at chess, this Scottish Cup final should be used as the perfect counter-point. Not that it mattered as Celtic celebrations got underway; an indelible mark has been entered into Scottish football's record books.

It took a titanic battle with Aberdeen for Celtic to complete a clean sweep of domestic trophies. This is special territory for Celtic, with Rodgers only the third manager in the club's illustrious history to win a treble. It was, though, impossible not to feel sorry for Derek McInnes and Aberdeen, who contributed so much to this final before quality - and fitness - told.

Scott Brown of Celtic lifts the SPL trophy last season. Photo: Getty Images
Scott Brown of Celtic lifts the SPL trophy last season. Photo: Getty Images

In 1970, an Aberdeen Scottish Cup success over Celtic prevented the Glasgow club from claiming a treble. Aberdeen returned to Hampden having not lifted Scotland's premier knockout trophy since 1990; Celtic again provided opposition in the final.

This time, McInnes took the surprising option of naming Adam Rooney among the Aberdeen substitutes. The Dubliner, despite having 19 goals to his name this season, was regarded as second choice to Jayden Stockley - presumably on the grounds of physicality.

Stockley displayed precisely that robust approach on 21 minutes. His arm caught Kieran Tierney in the mouth in front of the technical area, with the young Celtic full-back immediately clearly in distress. After a lengthy delay, and on account of considerable bleeding, Tierney's game was over. Replays were inconclusive regarding whether what Stockley did was illegal - his elbow certainly wasn't flailing - with only the player himself knowing about any element of intent.

By that stage, the teams had already traded goals. This was breathless, brilliantly entertaining stuff, with Aberdeen using the early stages to demonstrate they wouldn't cow to Celtic's lofty status. The Scottish Premier League champions, in fact, were more rattled during the first half than at any juncture in their domestic season.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers with the cup after winning the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park. Photo: PA Wire
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers with the cup after winning the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park. Photo: PA Wire

Aberdeen hoped recent history was on their side. The last 12 teams to score first in the Scottish Cup final ultimately won the game. Ireland international Jonny Hayes provided the men from the north-east with that hope, having raced on to a Niall McGinn corner to send a first-time shot past the despairing Tierney and into the Celtic net. Leigh Griffiths had been woefully lazy in allowing Hayes to beat him to the ball; a matter for which the Celtic striker visibly apologised to his goalkeeper Craig Gordon in the aftermath.

Celtic's response, as befitting champions, was instant. Aberdeen didn't properly halt a Callum McGregor run, with the ball breaking to Stuart Armstrong 22 yards from goal. The midfielder took a couple of steps forward before taking advantage of sluggish Shay Logan defending when picking his spot for perhaps an under-appreciated shot.

Aberdeen's confidence wasn't blunted by Celtic's intervention. In fact, they remained the better team until the interval. Gordon batted away efforts from McGinn and Ryan Jack before doing likewise to a net-bound Andy Considine header. And yet, curiously, it was Celtic who rued the worst miss of the opening 45 minutes, by Scott Sinclair after a tremendous Griffiths cross found him just three yards from goal. Sinclair, who has been prolific during his first season in Scotland, somehow scooped the ball over the crossbar.

Griffiths saw a shot deflected narrowly wide, five minutes after the restart, as Rodgers's team looked to finally assert their superior talent. That wasn't the signal for an onslaught, though; Aberdeen passed up a glorious opportunity as Hayes failed to find the onrushing and free Kenny McLean with a cut-back.

With the game now ebbing and flowing to the point it provided captivating viewing, the hitherto subdued Patrick Roberts struck the outside of the Aberdeen post. Dedryck Boyata was next to threaten with a diving header which carried power but insufficient accuracy.

With 15 minutes to play, Aberdeen fatigue set in. Celtic spent the closing stages laying siege on their opponents' penalty area, with Sinclair again guilty of fluffing his lines when wasting a simple chance to put his team in front. Strangely, with the match edging towards extra-time and potency required, Rodgers resisted any temptation to introduce the fit-again Moussa Dembele from among his replacements.

As with virtually everything that has happened since he arrived in Glasgow, Rodgers was proven right. Tom Rogic burst forward from midfield before sneaking his shot home at the near post. Celtic were delirious, Aberdeen broken.

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