In a week when we have been celebrating the history of our club we have another special moment to celebrate. We win the double in our centenary year, beat the best team on the planet when celebrating our 125th birthday and now, almost to the day of the 50th anniversary of Lisbon, we win our fourth treble. Arguably our best treble. The magic of Celtic.
Yet this was not a smooth path to history today. I was at the Celtic/Aberdeen cup final in ’67 and that was very comfortable with the result never in doubt. Astonishingly, that was the last time we had beaten Aberdeen in a Scottish Cup Final until today.
Aberdeen decided to stick with the same game plan that had worked so well for them when we won 3-1 at Pittodrie (hmmm) a couple of weeks ago. Stockley was put up front to ruffle up the defence (more of which later) and Aberdeen went for a high energy, high pressing game. It was clear that McInnes had drilled them well for this and for free kicks/corners with their goal coming from their first corner. Griffiths has played superbly since coming back into the team but he knew that he had lost Hayes at the corner who ran in to score a very well taken goal. I think there may be more work for Leigh on defensive duties in the close season.
With this Celtic team the goal was viewed as a blip but even I was surprised that we equalised so quickly. Did an Aberdeen player even touch the ball from kick off to goal? Stuart Armstrong responded well to having his own song now sung by fans, including a reference to his hair, by scoring with a beautifully placed shot only two minutes after falling behind. You can then expect the Celtic of this season to kick on and dominate the game but it didn’t happen. To be fair to Aberdeen they certainly got in our face though Stockley took that too literally with an elbow to KT’s mouth. Watching on TV I despaired, though wasn’t surprised, by the commentators attempt to justify Bobby Madden’s decision not even to give a free kick, a trick he has done to us before (Holt’s tackle on Roberts at Parkhead). Neil McCann in his usual impartial way attempted to equate it with Brown’s ‘elbow’ on Miller at Ibrox and it was left to Kris Commons to point out the obvious that, if a player leaves the field with his face smashed in, then the offender should be booked, at least.
Rodgers was typically bold in substituting Rogic for Tierney and moving McGregor to left back but the team were clearly unsettled and much of the rest of the first half made for uncomfortable viewing. Our passing wasn’t clicking and little was being seen of Roberts and Sinclair, although Sinclair did push a sitter over the bar right on the stroke of half time.
Throughout the season we have learned to trust Rodgers to sort out problems at half time. Actually, I think Chris Davies should be given some credit for this too. I had the anxiety ridden experience of going to the game in Be’er Sheva and it was noticeable how much Davies was advising Rodgers re the shape of our team and theirs. So although we hadn’t been playing well I was confident that matters would improve and so it transpired. We had one heart stopping moment when Hayes dispossessed the out of position McGregor and they had a 2 on 1 against our defence but, other than that, the chances were falling to us. This became more pronounced as the game went on until , in the last 15-20 minutes, Aberdeen were virtually encamped in their own half. We were making chances but the final touch just wasn’t there. In addition, Griffiths’ propensity to shoot on sight meant that sometimes players in better positions were being ignored. I’m sure with Rodger’s emphasis on team play that this won’t have gone unnoticed and I feel if Griffiths does not become smarter as to when to pass or shoot his days at Parkhead a numbered.
As the game moved closer to extra time it was clear that Aberdeen’s legs had gone. If extra time had happened I felt that we would have scored another two or three but, with timing that epitomises his value to Celtic, up stepped Tom Rogic. Considine was clearly keeping Rogic off his left foot and trying to push him wide but Tom just kept going and clipped it into the net from a ridiculously tight angle. Cue unbridled joy at Hampden and in many pubs and living rooms across the world as Celtic won an invincible treble. A feat we may well not see again.
Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, back came KT to collect his medal and show the fans just what playing for Celtic means to him. He’s acquiring legendary status before he reaches the age of 20!
So a season which started with me making the trip to Gibraltar to watch us get humiliated in the heat by a team of plumbers, taxi drivers etc has ended with the best domestic season ever. I can’t wait to see what the next stage of the Rodger’s revolution brings.