CELTIC players were surprised to hear their Ibrox counterparts had CHEERED when they heard the news the clubs had been drawn together in the Scottish Cup semi-final scheduled for Hampden on April 15 2018.
Author Alex Gordon recalls the bizarre chest-thumping bravado of the Govan contingent in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One,’ a tribute to the club’s glorious first 51 untainted title triumphs.
In an edited extract, Alex, the writer of fifteen Celtic books, reflected:
READ ALL ABOUT IT…Alex Gordon’s fifteenth Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’.
CELTIC contemptuously dismissed an inadequate Rangers team 4-0 in a lopsided semi-final in April on their way to a Scottish Cup Final meeting with Motherwell the following month.
Tom Rogic got the opener, Callum McGregor added the second before the interval and then the French double-act of Moussa Dembele and Olivier Ntcham rolled in two stick-on penalty-kicks to bring the curtain down on two years of unbridled joy against the suffering, outclassed Govan club; eight wins and two draws in ten games.
Bewilderingly, Graeme Murty, their beleaguered stand-in boss, had previously admitted his players had cheered when they had heard they had been paired with the holders. The TV cameras had been at Ibrox following the side’s quarter-final win over Championship outfit Falkirk when the ballot had been performed live on air. Murty revealed his staff, clearly a misguided collection of unparalleled optimists, erupted with joy at the news.
It was a bit like being informed the condemned man had taken a fit of the giggles before the firing squad took aim.
SCOREBOARD TELLS THE STORY…Celtic are emphatically heading for the Cup Final.
Celtic’s Swedish international right-back Mikael Lustig had an interesting view on the exaltations from across the city following the last-four pairing. “They probably knew they were going to get some extra days off and get an extra holiday,” he observed with a smidgen of a smirk. “That’s probably why they were cheering.”
Skipper Scott Brown added: “We just knew as soon as we turned up that we were going to win. They can cheer as much as they want, I don’t think they’ll be cheering tonight. We knew, from start to finish, that we were going to dominate this game. We fancied it. We know that when we turn up and play our game on a good pitch that nobody can deal with us.”
With five games to go, Celtic had the opportunity of wrapping up their seventh successive title against Hibs, managed by Neil Lennon, at Easter Road on April 21. They toppled to their third Premiership loss as they went down 2-1 in a game best forgotten. However, the supporters didn’t feel too aggrieved about the reverse which allowed their favourites the opportunity claim the crown eight days later at Parkhead.
The afternoon of April 29 2018 was built for smiles. Rangers were due to visit and Celtic were ninety minutes away from another crown. No West End impresario could have stage-managed it with such flawless timing. There was only going to be one winner that fateful day in the east end of the city.
Celtic triumphed 5-0 and the only surprise was that the players visibly eased off to a leisurely stroll with thirty-seven minutes still to play. The Ibrox men realised they had escaped with a five-goal drubbing. Celtic’s 7-1 League Cup Final victory at Hampden Park in 1957 is the club’s biggest victory in the derby match and the gap could have been obliterated on this occasion.
The contest manifested into a slaughter in the sun as Celtic swept their mesmerised opponents aside with a relentless, ruthless performance of high intensity, pure energy, outstanding finishing and a fair injection of quality. Graeme Murty knew his days as caretaker manager were over as he stood dumbstruck on the touchline, barely focusing on events unfolding in front of him as Rodgers’ side raced to a five-goal advantage by the fifty-third minute.
It had been the third time the Irishman had seen his side score five goals against the Govan outfit after they had settled for a 4-0 triumph a fortnight earlier in the Scottish Cup semi-final. In truth, as the manager conceded afterwards, Celtic should have scored more than five.
Odsonne Edouard skimmed across the perfect playing surface to stick two in the net with James Forrest, claiming his first-ever strike against the Ibrox side, Callum McGregor and, almost inevitably, Tom Rogic joining in.
CUP THAT CHEERS…Moussa Dembele celebrates his goal with Patrick Roberts, Scott Brown, Olivier Ntcham, Kieran Tierney and Scott Sinclair.
Their foes from across the Clyde now looked forward to meetings with their Glasgow neighbours much in the same way the blissfully unenlightened embraced swimming in a pool with a couple of particularly bad-tempered great whites.
Brendan Rodgers revelled in the team’s seventh successive title triumph – and the forty-ninth in history – and smiled when he had been reminded it had been the first time in thirty-nine years Celtic, then bossed by the legendary Billy McNeill, had clinched the flag against the Ibrox side.
Rodgers acknowledged: “Our basic rules today were very simple. It was to attack with real aggression and intensity, try and recover the ball as quickly as we could whenever we lost it. If we couldn’t do that, make sure we were tight and compact, look to dominate as much of the ball as we could and give it our best shot. And I don’t think I could have asked any more of the players. They were absolutely brilliant and I’m really proud.
“We should have had seven, but we’ll take five. The performance was outstanding. This title is definitely better than last time, even though we went unbeaten last year. To come in again this season with very little break and perform like we’ve done, playing a number of games under pressure, we’ve done that very, very well.”
Green and white ribbons were attached to the Scottish Cup on a glimmering May 19 afternoon at Hampden while Celtic went through the fading moments of the Final against Motherwell, two goals ahead following sensational strikes inside the first twenty-five minutes. Callum McGregor and Olivier Ntcham were the marksmen.