ANGE POSTECOGLOU could use the Premier Sports League Cup Final at Hampden tomorrow afternoon as a springboard to bigger and better things.
The Greek-Australian, who touched down in Scotland just under six months ago, is within 90 minutes of his first trophy as Celtic manager.
A determined Hibs side stand in the way of silverware success at the national stadium, but Postecoglou is eyeing a barrier-breaking triumph that could propel the team all the way to their tenth title in 11 years at the end of his debut campaign.
Chris Sutton reckons Neil Lennon’s successor has done remarkably well just to guide the side to this stage considering what he encountered after Celtic’s shambolic season last time around when they limped through their first trophyless term in over a decade.
THUMBS UP…Ange Postecoglou sends a message to the Celtic support.
Key players such as top scorer Odsonne Eduard, versatile Norwegian international defender Kristoffer Ajer and Scotland playmaker Ryan Christie were heading for the exit as the new man faced a major revamp of his ailing squad.
A dozen recruits arrived during a frantic summer as the jigsaw was put together, a massive rebuild that has seen the Parkhead club overcome Hearts (3-2), Raith Rovers (3-0) and St Johnstone (1-0) to earn the right for a crack at the trophy tomorrow.
Former Hoops striker Sutton said: “Ange Postecoglou will make a major statement if he seizes his first Celtic silverware.
“And, if he grabs hold of the Premier Sports Cup, it might just catapult his team on to adding the biggest domestic prize of the lot in May.
“The fact Postecoglou is even in this position heading to Hampden is quite something given the situation he inherited.
“Let’s face it, did any Celtic fan think he would be able to get things up and running as quickly as he has done?
“The Parkhead team still has a long way to go to become the finished article, but their rate of recovery is faster than most imagined.
COCA-COLA CUP CRACKERS…Marc Rieper, Henrik Larsson and Craig Burley, the scorers in the 3-0 Final triumph over Dundee United in 1997/98, take a bow with the newly-won silverware.
“Postecoglou had about four recognised first-team players worthy of a spot in the side when he took charge and was still filling up the numbers long after the season had already started.
“To get the first domestic trophy in the bag just six months after walking in the door would be quite an effort.
“It takes some pressure right off. Look at the way, it piled onto Steven Gerrard when he kept failing over his opening couple of seasons.
“At the same time, the injection of additional confidence and belief it would drive through the squad would be immeasurable.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I can recall it happened with Wim Jansen in 1997/98. Celtic were behind Rangers in the league and coming together as a new team when they defeated Dundee United to win the Coca-Cola League Cup in the first half of that season.
“It was a shot in the arm. It carried them forward and, in the end, it led to Jansen’s men actually going on and winning the title.
SEEING RED…Chris Sutton takes it sitting down as ref Hugh Dallas sends off the Celtic striker during the League Cup Final against Kilmarnock in 2001.
“When I was at Celtic, there were similar feelings around the group in my first year.
“Fair enough, the Final of the tournament was after the New Year in 2001 and we really had the league wrapped up even at that stage barring a collapse under Martin O’Neill.
“Nonetheless, there is something special about winning a trophy together for the first time as a group, even if I didn’t help matters by getting sent off against Kilmarnock. It bonds, it galvanises, it makes you go higher again and increases the taste for success. Many of the players in Postecoglou’s new-look squad haven’t won anything.
“To get that first feeling at Hampden will just fuel them for the months ahead.”
The one-time England international forward commented: “You have to be impressed by what Postecoglou is getting out of this squad at the moment.
“In the early weeks of the season, you could see he had a team who could be thrilling at times.
“However, there was also a suspicion that, if it got sticky and tough, they might slip. They might give too many goals away.
SILVERWARE SUPERSTAR…hat-trick ace Henrik Larsson holds aloft the League Cup after Celtic’s 3-0 win over Kilmarnock in 2001.
“To the second issue, they have the best defensive record in the league with the backline and goalkeeper Joe Hart keeping it tight.
“On the first, they have shown they have some grit. This past week has shown us that Postecoglou’s team can dig deep.
“They have basically played the last two games against Motherwell and Ross County without a single striker and they have found a way.
“The way they got it done in stoppage time with only 10 men on the park in Dingwall shows their courage and willingness to fight through a dodgy situation to emerge on top.
“Anthony Ralston was a fitting scorer. No-one epitomises a never-say-die attitude more than him and the way he has grown having been written off at the start of the season mirrors that of his team.”
TRUE GRIT…Anthony Ralston races away after his stoppage-time winner against Ross County in Dingwall. Cameron Carter-Vickers is about to join in.
Sutton added: “Celtic have shown they have steel to go with their style and they might need it again at Hampden depending on who they can get onto the pitch.
“Postecoglou has already won the backing of the fans, but you are nothing as a manager in Glasgow if you don’t back it up with trophies.
“This is a golden opportunity for the Aussie to get the very first he’s contested in Scotland.
“If he gets it in the bag, it’ll say plenty about his talents. And it may well lead to even bigger and better things for the rest of his term.”