BRENDAN RODGERS made his Hampden debut on the Sunday afternoon of October 23 2016 when he led Celtic in a League Cup semi-final meeting with Mark Warburton’s Ibrox team.

The Hoops manager, who had succeeded Norwegian Ronny Deila five months earlier, wasn’t to know it at the time, but it was to be the start of a love affair with Scotland’s national stadium.

Rodgers witnessed Moussa Dembele claim the only goal of the encounter in the 87th minute to kick-start nine successive triumphs at the venue that saw five pieces of coveted silverware cascade into the Parkhead trophy cabinet.

DOUBLE TAKE…no matter which way you look at it, Moussa Dembele’s winning goal in the 2016 League Cup semi-final is a thing of beauty – although Ibrox pair Matt Gilks and Rob Kiernan are unlikely to agree.

On a drizzily, grey day in the south side of Glasgow, the former Liverpool boss witnessed his players pummel Matt Gilks in the visitors’ goal with a variety of efforts, but, amazingly, the scoreline remained blank with the tie edging towards extra-time.

Warburton had set up his team in a safety-first formation after his side had been obliterated 5-1 the previous month with Dembele thumping in a hat-trick and Stuart Armstrong and Scott Sinclair adding to the joyous celebrations at Parkhead.

On this occasion, though, their best efforts were being repelled.

Erik Sviatchenko had put the ball in the opposition’s net with a superb header, but his effort was mystifyingly ruled out by referee Craig Thomson.

Apparently, the match official disallowed what looked like a perfectly good goal for a push by the Celtic defender on rival centre-back Clint Hill. Images seemed to prove the infringement was the other way round.

DOUBLE TAKE…no matter which way you look at it, Erik Sviatchenko’s effort against the Ibrox team looks perfectly legitimate as he outjumps a posse of opponents to send a header soaring into the net. Clint Hill seems to be getting to grips with the Celt, but referee Craig Thomson somehow contrived to rule it out.

Scott Sinclair was also denied when Gilks managed to tip his netbound free-kick onto the crossbar.

However, French powerhouse Dembele, with his 14th goal of the season, claimed the one that mattered when he raced to the near post before craftily backheeling a low right-wing cross from substitute Leigh Griffiths past the flummoxed keeper.

There was no way back for Warburton’s weary performers.

Afterwards, Rodgers beamed: “There is a huge desire to succeed here and the team is performing at the top level. But in order to put a stamp on that, you want to win trophies.”

If only the Irishman had known what lay in store.

Celtic returned to Hampden for the grand finale in November to enjoy a 3-0 romp against Aberdeen with Dembele on target again with a penalty-kick to add to first-half strikes from Tom Rogic and James Forrest.

HAMPDEN HALLELUJAH…Brendan Rodgers accepts the acclaim of the Celtic fans after his first win at the national stadium.

In the last game of Rodgers’ unforgettable Invincibles’ campaign, Wizard of Oz Rogic stroked in the stoppage-time Scottish Cup winner against the Dons.

The Hoops enjoyed identical 2-0 scorelines against Motherwell in the League Cup and Scottish Cup showdowns in his second term and he claimed his last honour in his first stint in November 2018.

Ryan Christie was the matchwinner with an athletic effort just before the interval against Derek McInnes’ Pittodrie outfit.

Coincidentally, the men from the north east now stand between Rodgers and the opportunity of his first trophy since his second coming in the east end of Glasgow.

A win tomorrow at his happy hunting ground will leave the Celtic manager eyeing a place in the Scottish Cup Final on the iconic date of May 25.

Let’s hope Irish eyes are smiling once more at Scotland’s national stadium tomorrow afternoon.

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