When I heard of Liverpool’s freak 3-0 defeat to Watford on Saturday, their first in the league this season, it portended to how Celtic are vulnerable to a cup upset. Football is not a sport where winning all the time is possible.
Even great teams score with a small percentage of their chances and sometimes will miss all chances in a game. Conversely, underdogs will sometimes score with their only chance(s) in a game; cup upsets are a statistical certainty.
As a consequence, this impossibly long run of domestic cup success simply has to end sometime and Perth on Sunday had all the hallmarks of the classic upset. St Johnstone are on form, the pitch was rutted and sodden; the weather, inclement. St Johnstone players were watching television on Thursday, while Celtic’s were exhausting limbs in a failed attempt to remain in Europe.
You will have noted that the only time any of our 33 previous cup games finished level after 90 minutes was at home to Dunfermline this season – immediately after our Champions League qualification defeat to Cluj. That European result hovered ominously over the domestic cup game; players are only human, full of human emotions. Perhaps that Dunfermline game put steel in the legs yesterday.
It takes more than good form, a horrible pitch, a sore European defeat and awful weather to knock this Celtic team out of a cup. The sheer determination to win, which was evident at Hampden in December’s League Cup Final, decided the outcome of yesterday’s Scottish Cup quarterfinal.
We are watching a dressing room united and with common purpose, unlike others I could mention. 34 consecutive cup wins is nothing short of miraculous, but the more miracles you perform, the more real estate you occupy in the minds of your opponents. Does anyone really expect to knock Celtic out of a cup these days?