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McGregor puts clinical Celtic on way to historic double treble

Celtic 2 Motherwell 0

Celtic’s Scott Brown (left) and Scott Sinclair celebrate with the Scottish Cup. Photo: PA
Celtic’s Scott Brown (left) and Scott Sinclair celebrate with the Scottish Cup. Photo: PA

Roddy Forsyth

The Inevitables might not be quite as resonant as the Invincibles - as Celtic were dubbed when they achieved an undefeated clean sweep of the Scottish honours last season - but the chronicles will not make such fine distinctions.

Instead, Brendan Rodgers and his players took their rightful place in history as they beat Motherwell in the Scottish Cup final to achieve an unprecedented double treble.

It is a given in Scottish football that if Celtic bring their big-match mentality to a domestic contest they will prevail, and on this occasion it was swiftly evident that Rodgers had not lowered the bar for his squad.

Motherwell were equally familiar with the script, having lost to Celtic in the League Cup final at the same venue in November and, animated by the knowledge that it was imperative to take the lead against such relentless opponents, they sought to spring Curtis Main free in the opening exchanges.

The striker harassed Kristoffer Ajer into conceding possession and switched the ball to Liam Grimshaw inside the box and another simple pass would have left the advancing Allan Campbell with a free shot at goal.

Grimshaw, though, made clumsy contact and, when Campbell had to check and turn to gather possession, the chance had evaporated.

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths lifts the trophy as they celebrate after winning the Scottish Cup. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths lifts the trophy as they celebrate after winning the Scottish Cup. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Such wastefulness against Celtic invites punishment and it should have been delivered within a couple of minutes by Tom Rogic when the Australian slipped past the Motherwell captain, Carl McHugh, into a pocket of space behind Moussa Dembele for a shot which slipped past the post on the wrong side. The Steelmen had been warned and, in the 11th minute, paid the price for failing to heed the lesson.

Two attempts to clear Celtic pressure were misplaced and the second fell to Callum McGregor. He tamed the ball with a deft touch and then drilled a precise right-foot shot beyond Trevor Carson from 22 yards. Celtic duly doubled their lead in the 25th minute when Dembele supplied his fellow Frenchman, Olivier Ntcham, for a shot from almost exactly the same position as McGregor's strike. Ntcham emulated his midfield colleague with another drive which swept across Carson and into the bottom corner of the net.

"We knew it would be tough but we pretty much won the game in the first half," McGregor said afterwards.

His succinct summary might have been averted had Gael Bigirimana been a fraction more accurate with a late free-kick which shivered Gordon's crossbar. Other than that, the 65 minutes that remained after the second goal were controlled by Celtic.

Celtic's Scott Brown competes with Motherwell's Liam Grimshaw. Photo: Graham Stuart/PA Wire
Celtic's Scott Brown competes with Motherwell's Liam Grimshaw. Photo: Graham Stuart/PA Wire

"McGregor scores the first goal and it's a super finish - that's the difference in the sides in terms of quality," said the Motherwell boss.

"From there, they're in control. The performance in the second half made me very proud, to go toe-to-toe with Celtic. We maybe regret the first 20 minutes. At half-time we told them to stop playing with fear and giving them too much respect."

Rodgers was a touch pernickety in the aftermath of a historic victory but, in identifying a degree of carelessness by his protégés, he was merely posting a reminder of the standards which have brought Celtic this far. "We could have been cleaner with passing at times, and a bit better with the last pass, but the boys were brilliant," he said.

"I'm very lucky to get the chance to manage the club. You can only do your best and the last couple of seasons have been magical. I told the players before the game, 'This is a chance for you to make your own history, to win today - it's going to live with you, your families and the supporters forever'.

"It's never been done before, so big applause to the players. It's a great day for everyone. We can be better next year. We set out to win three trophies, but I need to push them even harder next year. There are improvements we can make."

The most significant improvement would be qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League, but that is a matter for consideration on another day.

More immediately, Celtic can accept the salutations of their euphoric fans today when they meet the Republic of Ireland in Scott Brown's testimonial match at Parkhead.

Sunday Indo Sport

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