THE last time Celtic met their Ibrox rivals at Hampden was April last year and Carl Starfelt scored the winning goal.
Unfortunately, it was for the opposition.
With just six minutes of extra-time to play and a tense Scottish Cup semi-final tied at 1-1, the Swedish international made his dramatic intrusion to end the Parkhead side’s interest in the competition.
With Josip Juranovic off the pitch with an injury, Calvin Bassey had time and space to hammer in a left-wing cross and Starfelt desperately attempted to intercept as Fashion Sakala waited to pounce.
CUP THAT CHEERS…Greg Taylor celebrates the opening goal for Celtic in last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final as Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers trek back to take up their defensive positions for the recentre.
The lunging defender got a touch, but, alas, it merely sent the ball spinning away from the helpless Joe Hart for what turned out to be the goal that wrecked Ange Postecoglou’s dream of a domestic clean sweep in his debut campaign.
The decisive strike was typical of a day where little went right for the Parkhead side, who, admittedly, were nowhere near their best against the team managed by Giovanni van Bronckhorst who was sacked seven months later.
Greg Taylor gave the Hoops the lead with a rare goal in the 64th minute and Cameron Carter-Vickers had the opportunity five minutes later to double the advantage, but sent his effort clattering against the crossbar.
A moment of slackness on the right wing saw a cross come in for Scott Arfield to whip in a leveller with 12 minutes to go to force the game into an additional 30 minutes in which Starfelt made his ill-fated impact.
OOPS…Carl Starfelt (extreme left) has that sinking feeling as he diverts the winning goal past the stranded keeper Joe Hart.
Philosophically, a bitterly disappointed Postecoglou reflected: “We’ve had to be resilient all year and this is another challenge for us.
“We are disappointed that we didn’t get to another final, we’re disappointed for our fans, irrespective of what happened today we’ve got five games to be champions of this country.”
The priority target of the title was, of course, duly delivered in the 1-1 draw with Dundee United at Tannadice on May 11.
A second crown is within touching distance with the champions nine points ahead with 12 games to play and the first hurdle in the bid for the cherished treble will be presented at Hampden on Sunday afternoon.
Once again, the Glasgow teams square up, this time in the Viaplay League Cup Final, and there is a grim determination not to slip on the derby banana skin on this occasion.
The Hoops go into the silverware showdown on a high after a sequence of impressive results which continued with the 4-0 destruction of Aberdeen at Parkhead at the weekend.
THE WINNER…Christopher Jullien smashes home the 2019 League Cup clincher with Odsonne Edouard and James Forrest getting a good view.
By a strange quirk, the previous two occasions Celtic have won the League Cup against the Ibrox club, the central defenders have been the goalscoring stars of the show.
Christopher Jullien sidefooted in the only goal of the game when 10-man Hoops – with Jeremie Frimpong red-carded around the hour mark – held on for a memorable victory in December 2019.
A decade earlier, Darren O’Dea, the club’s current B team coach, headed in the opener in extra-time and Aiden McGeady rolled a penalty kick beyond Allan McGregor to make the final scoreline 2-0.
Can Starfelt join the unlikely Hampden heroes? When the fact was mentioned to the £4.2million back-four operator, he smiled: “I will do my best. That would be nice!”
The centre-back said: “We will go in with our gameplan. We will go in to play our football and how it will play out, we will see.
“In these games, you need 100 per cent concentration in every situation. It can be a set-piece or a counter-attack, it can be anything so you need to concentrate.
“It is a big thing to never relax, but to always be focused and concentrated.”
HEAD BHOY…Darren O’Dea is the unlikely goal hero with the opener against Rangers in the 2-0 League Cup Final triumph in 2009.
Starfelt, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “We have a big and strong squad and I think against Aberdeen the substitutions came on and contributed in a very good way.
“That is important because we don’t just have 11 players, we have other players who can come on and play well. It was a good result. Four goals, a clean sheet and we played well, so we are happy.”
Celtic have scored 106 goals this season – with 31 strikes in their last nine games – and two on Saturday against the Dons were secured by reclaiming possession. Starfelt added: “It is a huge part of our game.
“We like to stop the teams high up the pitch if we can do it which is why you don’t see in some games too many clearances inside the box or too many dangerous situations because we are on the front foot and really defending in their half of the pitch.
“Defensively, it is the foundation of our game to work really hard and everyone works hard defensively so we can win the ball high up the pitch.
”We have really good confidence within the squad because we have been scoring a lot of goals and we have not been conceding many goals.
“We always want to score as many goals as possible and win by as many as possible.
“At this point, we don’t think too much about the goal difference, but it was a really strong performance against Aberdeen which gives us confidence going forward.”
And if the Swede does score the decisive goal in the national stadium on this occasion, we hope it sees the trophy bedecked in green and white ribbons for the second consecutive season.