BRENDAN RODGERS was a mere three minutes from an impeccable record in his six encounters against Sevco Rangers in a truly memorable debut campaign as Celtic manager.
It started with a 5-1 triumph over the Ibrox side in September – and it was completed with a 5-1 win over the same opponents in Govan seven months later.
Today in Part Three of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE extract from Alex Gordon’s publication ‘CELTIC: The History Bhoys’, we chart the incredible journey for Rodgers and his players.
HAT-TRICK HERO…Moussa Dembele cleberates his first Glasgow derby by hammering in three glorious goals.
CELTIC 5 SEVCO RANGERS 1 (September 10, 2016)
MIGHTY Moussa Dembele went on the rampage as he made his first appearance in the Glasgow derby, a game which can overpower even veterans of the fixture. The twenty-year-old striker, a bargain £500,000 signing from Fulham in the summer, looked as though he had been born for this big-time stage.
The awesomely-built French ace was brought in to replaced the injured Leigh Griffiths and simply ran amok with a phenomenal and perfect hat-trick – one with his head, one with his right foot and one with his left. It was a pulverising performance from Dembele who had the huge percentage of the 60,000 audience at a rocking Parkhead in raptures.
Remarkably, it took Celtic until the thirty-fourth minute to claim the breakthrough goal. Scott Sinclair swung over a left-wing corner-kick and the juggernaut frontman was unmarked as he sent a header thudding into the net. Eight minutes later, Dembele doubled his team’s advantage when he latched onto a threaded pass from Nir Bitton, sold a supreme dummy to Phillipe Senderos and tucked the ball away with the outside of his right foot.
Just before the interval, Dorus de Vries, the keeper bought from Nottingham Forest to team up again with his former Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers, elected to remain on his line as James Tavernier swung over a right-wing cross. Kenny Miller met it at the back post to loop a header over the Dutch goalie and Joe Garner bundled the ball over the line from practically under the crossbar. The narrowness of the half-time scoreline was met with a fair bit of incredulity.
ON THE RUN…Kieran Tierney takes on James Tavernier.
However, Celtic stretched their advantage again in the sixty-first minute when Man of the Match Dembele released a pass to Sinclair who finished with a fair amount of aplomb. In the eighty-first minute Rangers’ new signing Senderos, who just couldn’t cope with the energetic Gallic giant, was sent off following a second yellow card for a senseless handball. The former Swiss international looked almost relieved to be exiting the painful proceedings. Two minutes later, Dembele completed his terrific threesome when Mikael Lustig sent over a neat cross from the right and the frontman killed it in one movement before lashing a left-foot drive into the corner of the net.
Stuart Armstrong, who had replaced Tom Rogic in the fifty-fourth minute, made the most of some slick lead-up play between Sinclair and Kieran Tierney to thump a low drive beyond the overworked and exhausted Wes Foderingham for the fifth and final goal as the champions finished with a flourish. It had been a day to remember for a young Frenchman and a forty-four-year-old Irishman.
Rodgers said: “That’s why it it’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest derby, in the world. It was an incredible atmosphere and, of course, our performance lifts the crowd. It was a brilliant display from ourselves and a great result. A lot of these boys have travelled over 60,000 miles across the international break, so to come back and play at that intensity, that level and be that clinical was a joy to see.
“It does make it sweet when you play that well and perform with that concentration, so it was a very good performance. Moussa Dembele is a top talent, too. He scored three wonderful and different types of goals. But, of course, today was about the team.”
De Vries; Lustig, Toure, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown (sub: McGregor), Bitton; Forrest (sub: Roberts), Rogic (sub: Armstrong), Sinclair; Dembele.
THE WINNER…Moussa Dembele clips a cute effort wide of keeper Matt Gilks in the League Cup semi-final.
CELTIC 1 SEVCO RANGERS 0 (October 23, 2016)
BRENDAN RODGERS guided his team to within ninety minutes of being crowned Celtic Centurians with a masterclass performance to claim a place in the League Cup Final. Moussa Demble, swiftly becoming the destroyer of dreams around Govan way, netted the only goal with a touch of French chic three minutes from time.
The Parkhead side’s overall superiority was not reflected in the final result as they claimed their rightful place at Hampden for a silverware showdown on November 27. Only Aberdeen now stood between Celtic and their 100th major trophy.
Rodgers and his players must have wondered if it was going to be one of those days when nothing goes your way. Four minutes after the interval, Erik Sviatchenko rose above Clint Hill to propel a header wide of keeper Matt Gilks’ groping fingers. However, the cries of “Goal” were strangled among the Celtic contingent when referee Craig Thomson unfathomably ruled it out. The match official indicated a push by the Dane, but TV pictures clearly showed it was a fifty/fifty challenge without an infringement from the Celt.
In the sixty-seventh minute, Andy Halliday was punished for a reckless challenge on Scott Brown twenty-five yards out. Scott Sinclair elected to take the free-kick and curled it high above Gilks. Unfortunately, it struck the bar, touched the goalie’s glove on the way out and, defying gravity, dropped behind the fallen No.1 who was able to grab the ball on the line.
BROONY BEAMS…Celtic skipper Scott Brown yells with delight as Sevco suffer.
However, as the semi-final edged towards extra-time and, even worse, dreaded penalty-kicks, Celtic finally got their reward. Jozo Simunovic, who was playing instead of Kolo Toure who had gifted Borussia Monchengladbach both their goals in their shock 2-0 win at Parkhead in midweek, was the architect with a long-range defence-splitting pass. Left-back Lee Wallace failed to cut out the ball and Leigh Griffiths, on for Tom Rogic, was onto it in a flash.
His cross was perfection and Dembele displayed the cheek of a confident performer at the height of his game as he cleverly backheeled the ball through the legs of the surprised Gilks and into the net. It was a worthy, if belated, winner. Now there was only the little matter of taking care of the Dons at the national stadium the following month.
Rodgers said: “I thought we were very dominant in terms of chances, power, quality and strength. How we went about the game was brilliant. The players stopped them building and the intensity of the press we were able to put on them was at a real high level. When we had the ball, we created opportunities and looked a real threat going forward.
“So, in every element of our game, it was at a high level. When you consider coming off the back of a really tough Champions League game in midweek, every single one of the players deserve a huge amount of credit for not only their performance, but their strength and mentality to get the victory.”
Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton (sub: Armstrong); Forrest (sub: Gamboa), Rogic (sub: Griffiths), Sinclair; Dembele.
HOOPY NEW YEAR…Scott Sinclair steers the ball beyond keeper Wes Foderingham for the second and winning goal at Ibrox.
SEVCO RANGERS 1 CELTIC 2 (December 31, 2016)
CELTIC had already played eight games in December as they prepared for the Hogmanay confrontation at Ibrox. With praiseworthy and phenomenal consistency, Brendan Rodgers’ side had won seven of those outings with the other drawn, a 1-1 Champions League stalemate against Manchester City at The Etihad.
Motherwell, Partick Thistle (twice), Hamilton Accies (twice), Dundee and Ross County had been met and vanquished en route to third meeting of the season against Mark Warburton’s team in Govan before bringing down the curtain on an eventful 2016 for all concerned with the Parkhead club.
Celtic knew a win would see them go nineteen points ahead of their Glasgow neighbours, a victory that would most assuredly leave them in their slipstream for the rest of the league season. However, the task became a bit more onerous when Rangers took the lead in the twelfth minute. Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko played a role with an untypical sloppy pass straight to Kenny Miller. He knocked it wide to James Tavernier, who played a quick one-two with Josh Windass to get round the back of the defence before zipping a right-wing cross into the penalty area. Miller, racing in at speed, turned the ball home from three yards.
In the thirty-third minute, groans were exchanged for grins among the travelling support when Rodgers’ side equalised. Moments earlier, Scott Sinclair had left Wes Foderingham helpless with a sweeping low effort that smacked against the inside of the left-hand upright before Clint Hill hastily booted the rebound for a corner-kick. Sinclair stepped up to take award and Moussa Dembele, scorer of four goals in the two previous Old Firm meetings, eluded his marker Danny Wilson at the far post. He took a touch with his right foot and then lashed in an unstoppable left-foot piledriver that exploded into the roof of the net.
Ten minutes after the turnaround, the French striking sensation almost repeated the feat when he met a deft left-wing cross from Callum McGregor in acrobatic fashion, but the ball bounced up off the turf past a bamboozled Foderingham and clattered against the face of the crossbar and the chance was lost.
Celtic were not to be denied, though. In the sixty-eighth minute, Rodgers took off James Forrest and introduced substitute Patrick Roberts. It turned out to be a shrewd move from the manager. Within two minutes, the tricky, little winger helped set up the winner. He dinked a lovely pass through the home rearguard into the path of the storming Armstrong on the right. He wasted no time in squaring it across the face of the goal and Sinclair had read his intentions perfectly. He was left in splendid isolation to roll the ball into the net at the back post.
Rodgers said: “I thought it was a brilliant result and a really great advert for Scottish football. Both sets of players did very, very well considering the conditions. But I thought we thoroughly deserved to win it. In the first-half, we didn’t start so well and didn’t pass the ball so well, but we were always a threat on the counter-attack, trying to exploit the space.
“We needed to readjust one or two things at half-time and I thought, in the second-half, we were brilliant. We looked a real threat and every time we went forward we looked like scoring. I’m disappointed just to get two goals. But the most pleasing thing of all is how we dealt with the pressure of falling behind in the game.
“We had talked about that before the match. How to find solutions and how to stay calm. Once we got the goal, we played our way back into the game again, so it was an outstanding performance, particularly in the second-half.”
Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre; Brown, Armstrong; Forrest (sub: Roberts), McGregor, Sinclair; Dembele.
BY THE RIGHT…Stuart Armstrong fires in a shot against the Govan outfit.
CELTIC 1 SEVCO RANGERS 1 (March 12, 2017)
THE clock was ticking down as Celtic protected Stuart Armstrong’s thirty-fifth minute effort. They looked comfortable enough, but calamity struck in the eighty-seventh minute when some unusually lackadaisical defending allowed an opening for the Ibrox men. Emerson Hyndman was allowed a clear shot at goal from just inside the box and the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder fired in a ferocious low drive.
Craig Gordon, as he had demonstrated throughout the game, was equal to the task. He spread his 6ft 4in frame as he somersaulted to his right to push the ball away. Alas, it went straight to veteran centre-half Clint Hill, lurking at the far post. Before Mikael Lustig could react, the defender, with reflexes belying his thirty-eight years, sped in to snap up the opportunity from practically on the goal-line to ram the equaliser into the net.
Apart from a pocket of visiting fans, Celtic Park fell silent; no-one saw that one coming. It looked as though another three points were about to be claimed after the first-half opener from Armstrong, who had earlier struck the post with a clever free-kick. Dame Fortune changed her snarl to a smile shortly afterwards when he worked a swift manoeuvre with James Forrest and smashed a sizzling left-foot drive from sixteen yards low past Wes Foderingham at his left-hand post.
The encounter ended on a controversial note when referee Bobby Madden refused what looked to many like an indisputable penalty-kick in the fading seconds. Hill, who had previously been booked, clearly attempted to pull back Leigh Griffiths outside the box before the elusive striker raced clear. The defender then lunged in to send the Celtic player crashing to the ground. Penalty-kick? It certainly would have been given by most match officials, but, astoundingly, Madden waved away the claims.
In the end, Celtic had to be content with a draw that kept them thirty-three points ahead of the Ibrox side. They also knew they would lift their sixth successive Premiership crown if they won their next two games against Dundee and Hearts.
Rodgers said: “We obviously should have had a penalty-kick right at the death. It was a clear-cut penalty. It’s very frustrating, especially when Clint Hill tells me he got away with it on the pitch, so that’s even more so. Clint’s a good guy, an honest fella and I know when he says it, he knows he got away with one. Probably everyone has seen it apart from the referee.
“It’s always disappointing if you lose an equaliser late on like that, especially the manner of it. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m proud of the team, although I don’t think we were so good in the first-half. However, I thought the commitment was great and, in the second-half, I thought it was maybe a matter of time before we got our second goal, but when it’s at 1-0 there is always that little moment that can happen.”
Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton (sub: McGregor); Forrest (sub: Roberts), Armstrong (sub: Griffiths), Sinclair; Dembele.
SPOT ON, SCOTTY…Sinclair takes the acclaim of the fans and team-mates Leigh Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong after his killer penalty-kick.
CELTIC 2 SEVCO RANGERS 0 (April 23, 2017)
THE Celtic cavalcade rolled into Hampden and produced a command performance as they majestically booked a place in the Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen on May 27. Brendan Rodgers’ side were so much in control with their quality play the game could have been dubbed Bhoys v Boys. Rangers didn’t stand a chance in the High Noon shoot-out.
The Parkhead side opened the scoring in the eleventh minute and the Ibrox side, with Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha taking charge of them in an Old Firm game for the first time, were already heading for the tournament’s exit. Their defence was prised open with consummate ease. Mikael Lustig launched a long ball from his own half towards the menacing Moussa Dembele. The French marksman’s first touch was exquisite as he plucked it out of the air on the toe of his boot before knocking a pass inside to Callum McGregor. Combining confidence and composure, the midfielder, from twenty yards, simply passed the ball beyond the flummoxed and static Wes Foderingham at his right-hand side.
Celtic’s possession play was awesome as they outplayed their opponents in the opening forty-five minutes and Rangers’ only response – if you could it that – was a wayward long-range effort from Kenny Miller that sailed harmlessly over the crossbar. It was all over as a contest three minutes after the turnaround. Dedryck Boyata broke up an attack just inside the Celtic box before passing accurately to Patrick Roberts on the right. With perfect precision, he placed the ball in front of the sprinting Leigh Griffiths, who had taken over from hamstring victim Dembele before half-time.
Last season’s forty-goal man was crudley brought crashing to the ground by a last-ditch James Tavernier tackle. Referee Willie Collum pointed to the spot and all eyes were on Scott Sinclair, who had missed his previous attempt in the 1-1 draw against Partick Thistle only three games earlier. Foderingham made a gallant effort to thwart him, but the power of the flamboyant attacker’s well-struck drive was enough to beat him at his right-hand post.
Gordon was awakened from his slumber to deal with a close-range header from Miller and then he blocked a shot from the same player with his foot, but there could be little doubt his team-mates had taken their foot off the gas with the result never in doubt. The Scotland international goalkeeper also looked lively to turn a soaring twenty-yard drive from Joe Dodoo round the left-hand upright. It was Celtic, though, who came closest to scoring again when substutute Tom Rogic, on for McGregor, torpedoed in a low shot from outside the box that had Foderingham beaten. However, the ball struck the base of the right-hand post and whipped harmlessly past.
Celtic and their manager were now set for the grand finale to an exceptional campaign.
Rodgers said: “In general, we were outstanding. We deservedly went one-nil up, had other opportunities and restricted Rangers to very few efforts. Young Callum McGregor was brilliant, really, really good, technically gifted and it was a wonderful goal he scored. Everyone’s delighted, it’s one of the best team performances we’ve had all season.
“Before the game, we said to ourselves if we set out the first ten minutes at one hundred per cent, keep the ball and create chances, there’s no doubt we’ll win the game. Now we can looking forward to the Cup Final. I’m sure if we can play as well as we did in the League Cup Final against them, or like we did on this occasion, it could be a great day for us, but there’s a lot of hard work between now and then.
“We are one game away from a real historic season.”
Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Boyata, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong; Roberts (sub: Forrest), McGregor (sub: Rogic), Sinclair; Dembele (sub: Griffiths).
IBROX GLEE…Jozo Simunovic looks happy at another Celtic goal in the Glasgow derby.
SEVCO RANGERS 1 CELTIC 5 (April 29, 2017)
THE Ibrox side were swept away by a green-and-white whirlwind as Celtic hammered in five goals at Ibrox for the first time in their history. Brendan Rodgers’ team started at a furious tempo and maintained the onslaught throughout in an incredibly one-sided encounter.
The visitors took the lead in the seventh minute and were relentless as they hunted down their foes in pursuit of even more glory. A last-ditch tackle from Clint Hill prevented Callum McGregor from opening the scoring in sixty-five seconds, but he only delayed the inevitable agony. Teenage left-back Myles Beerman was reckless with a sliding challenge on speeding Patrick Roberts and he sent the winger sprawling in the penalty box. Referee John Beaton pointed to the spot and Scott Sinclair, as he had done the previous week, sent the ball spinning into the corner of the net, this time with Wes Foderingham guessing wrong and going the wrong way.
In the eighteenth minute, the crestfallen keeper revisited the back of his rigging to fetch the ball for a second time. Stuart Armstrong showed more desire in a challenge for the ball with Emerson Hyndman and took possession before releasing a pass to Leigh Griffiths on the left. He took a touch and, from an angle, unleashed a mighty left-foot drive that zoomed over the goalie’s hands into the net. The procession towards the Rangers goal continued unabated for the remaining twenty-seven minutes of the half. Griffiths battered one off the crossbar and, astoundingly, Sinclair put the rebound wide of the gaping target. The Englishman, voted the Celtic Player of the Year by his team-mates, then missed from two yards after a dainty lob over from the left by Griffiths.
The second-half was only seven minutes old when the champions struck again. The debonair Roberts retrieved a misplaced pass to poke the ball in front of McGregor, who resisted the temptation to hit a first-time shot. He nurtured the ball, waited for a moment and then placed a cunning shot through the legs of James Tavernier and wide of the sprawling Foderingham. In the sixty-sixth minute, the flustered Beerman clattered Roberts once again and Griffiths delicately swung over the resultant free-kick. The keeper was rooted to his line and Dedryck Boyata took full advantage as he rose to nod the ball down and into the net.
BY THE LEFT…Scott Sinclair zips in a low drive as Clint Hill challenges.
There was a moment’s respite for the well-trounced home side in the eighty-first minute when Kenny Miller worked a quick one-two with Joe Garner and placed a neat effort wide of the exposed Craig Gordon. Celtic kept the best to the last. Three minutes remained when Mikael Lustig picked up a loose ball and careered towards the danger zone. Displaying the skills of a Messi or a Ronaldo, the Swedish international defender danced his way past Danny Wilson, lined up a shot from the edge of the box and gracefully caressed the ball towards its destination.
Rodgers said: “It was an outstanding team performance. From the very first whistle, we were exceptional. The only disappointment was we could have scored more goals. We created really good chances to get more. Fundamentally, the players pressed the game very well. Our tactical organisation for getting the ball back was the key.
“A lot of our game has improved as the season has gone on. I said when I came in, we would get better and better. If you compare this 5-1 to the 5-1 earlier this season, there’s a big difference for me in terms of tactical organisation and players understanding concepts of what we are trying to do. Collectively, they all understand their roles in getting forward, who needs to score goals and who needs to be effective.”
Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Boyata, Tierney; Brown (sub: Kouassi), Armstrong (sub: Rogic); Roberts (sub: Forrest), McGregor, Sinclair; Griffiths.
TOMORROW: Six of the Best: The pick of the bunch from the other games that signalled a sensational start to the Rodgers’ Reign.