If 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.
The scale of Celtic’s celebrations as Tom Rogic guided the club, and Brendan Rodgers, into uncharted territory told a story of what toil had come before. Rodgers and Celtic, this now-famous Celtic side of 2017, have completed an unbeaten domestic season.
It took a titanic battle with Aberdeen for Celtic to complete a clean sweep of domestic trophies. Rodgers is 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.
Rogic strode forward from midfield in stoppage time in what proved the last act of this campaign, the Australian’s low finish at Joe Lewis’s near post the precursor for outright delirium as the Aberdeen contingent sank to their knees en masse in dismay.
“This is a great day for the club,” said Rodgers. “I’m elated, this is an incredible feeling. Maybe the stars were aligned for Celtic this season, but don’t get me wrong: we have earned it.”
Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, did nothing to hide his upset. “We put so much into it that I’m gutted for the players and supporters,” he said. “We played our part in a great final.”
Jayden Stockley displayed the robust approach that surprisingly earned him an Aberdeen starting berth on 21 minutes. His arm caught Kieran Tierney in the mouth in front of the technical area, with the young Celtic full-back immediately 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. Tierney returned to raise the Scottish Cup alongside his team-mates, to a rousing ovation.
By the point of Tierney’s exit, the teams had already traded goals. This was breathless, brilliantly entertaining stuff, with Aberdeen using the early stages so demonstrate they wouldn’t be cowed by Celtic’s lofty status. The Premier League champions, in fact, were more rattled during the first half than at any juncture in their domestic season.
The last 12 teams to score first in the Scottish Cup final ultimately won the game. Jonny Hayes provided the men from the north-east that hope, having raced onto a Niall McGinn corner to send a first-time shot past the despairing Tierney on the line 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 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.
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 re-start, as Rodgers’ team looked to finally assert their superior talent. That wasn’t yet the signal for an onslaught, though; Aberdeen passed up a glorious opportunity as Hayes agonisingly failed to find the onrushing and free Kenny McLean with a cut-back.
With 15 minutes to play, fatigue set in for Aberdeen. Celtic spent the closing stages laying siege to their opponents’ goal. Sinclair again fluffed his lines when handed 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 Dembélé from among his replacements.
As with virtually everything that has happened since he arrived in Glasgow, Rodgers was proven right. Rogic, himself a substitute, left Aberdeen’s defenders in his slipstream. Celtic have long since done exactly the same to the rest of Scottish football.
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