Derek McInnes faced a difficult challenge. How do you stop Celtic, who have swept all before them, on their way to a third consecutive domestic treble? His choice was clear: get in about them, barge, kick and shove whenever close to a green and white jersey.
After Celtic’s opening onslaught came to nothing, this strategy worked for Aberdeen for around 30 minutes. At that point, the already booked Dominic Ball flew dangerously into Ryan Christie. The latter took 6 minutes to be stretchered off; the former collected his second yellow.
Aberdeen should have pondered the wisdom of their aggressive tactics, but by now the outcome was no longer in doubt and they went down with studs up and hurling abuse.
Two minutes after play recommenced, James Forrest created space 25 yards from goal before despatching a magnificent left foot shot beyond Joe Lewis into the net. It was a goal to match the occasion. From that distance, on his weaker foot, the chances of scoring were remote, but James seems to rise to these Hampden occasions.
Jonny Hayes evaded Mikey Devlin and moved clear through on goal but the Aberdeen central defender pushed Hayes from behind eight yards out, resulting in an inevitable penalty. Odsonne Edouard made no mistake from the spot.
It went from bad to brutality from Aberdeen when Lewis Ferguson lunged at Tom Rogic’s shin. Ferguson had both feet off the ground when he came into contact with Tom. Referee Craig Thomson was five yards away and issued a straight red card. Tom answered this attack in the best way possible, by scoring from a rebound attempt at the resulting free kick. He was fortunate not to have been the second Celtic player to leave on a stretcher.
To illustrate the extent of Aberdeen’s demise into indiscipline, Derek McInnes was ordered to the stand, where he joined his already-red carded assistant, Tony Docherty. His team were dirty and occasionally thuggish. I do not know if there is a way for a Scottish club to plan to beat Celtic, but there are many better ways to lose.
Had this been Neil Lennon, had this been Neil Lennon’s team, he would be hung out to dry by pontificating critics. Instead, Celtic rose above the fury. For once, we did not even have to endure the perennial Hampden flares.
The Scottish Cup Final takes place on 25 May. Your script is written, Celtic….
As we walked to Hampden yesterday the conversation eventually came round the 1937 Final between Celtic and Aberdeen, which attracted 137,000 attendees, and the crushing at pay gates some of us experienced in the 70s and 80s.
We talked about the 1985 Scottish Cup Final, a pay at the gate game, when police opened the gates, allowing thousands of Celtic fans free entry into the Hampden terraces, then the league clinching game against Dundee in 1988, when Celtic continued to take money at the gate despite crowds breaking over the barrier due to crushing. There was no such thing as a full house in Scottish football back then.
The FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989 saw the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, crushed into pens with no way to exit. Police opened the gates to alleviate crushing outside the turnstiles, resulting in hundreds of fans funneling into a tunnel, unaware they were blocking the only exit from the two central Leppings Lane end pens.
After the initial mistake to open the gates, systemic failures exacerbated the death toll. Lies were told, compliant journalists were co-opted into a conspiracy and it is only now, 30 years later, that criminal proceedings are underway.
Until 1989 football was killing its fans through neglect. Rangers decided to rebuild their ground after the 1971 Ibrox Disaster, which claimed the lives of 66 fans, but the loss of two lives on the same stairway a decade earlier, or incidents involving multiple injuries in 1967 and 1969, registered little response. Celtic Park never had incidents like this, but if you were a fan in the pre-Hillsborough era, you will remember moments of mortal fear at one turnstile in particular.
The legacy of those who lost their lives on the Leppings Lane terrace 30 years ago is a safer game for us to enjoy today.