CELTIC achieved glorious history when they overcame Hearts in a dramatic penalty-kick shoot-out to lift their TWELFTH successive domestic honour on a drizzly Sunday afternoon of December 20 2020.
The spot-kick victory, with rookie goalkeeper Conor Hazard the unlikely hero with two full-length stops, was sealed as the Hoops triumphed 4-3 following a thrilling 3-3 stalemate after extra-time.
Neil Lennon saw his troops go in two goals ahead inside the first half-hour following a superb effort from Ryan Christie and a cheeky penalty-kick from Odsonne Edouard. However, the Irishman winced in disbelief as the Edinburgh men came back in the second-half to claim two strikes and force the tussle into an extra 30 minutes.
HISTORY BHOY…Kristoffer Ajer sizzles the penalty-kick past Hearts keeper Craig Gordon for the goal that sealed the remarkable quadruple treble.
Leigh Griffiths thumped a rebound from former team-mate Craig Gordon into the roof of the net in the first period, but, startingly, the Championship side levelled again to force the spot-kick decider.
Griffiths and Callum McGregor scored the first two efforts, but Christie missed his with his attempt with the Tynecastle outfit 3-2 ahead. Enter hero Hazard, playing only his third first-team game.
The 22-year-old Irishman swooped to save from Stephen Kinglsey before Mikey Johnston rolled in his award. Hazard again produced another diving save to thwart Craig Wighton and all eyes were on Kristoffer Ajer to score the deciding penalty-kick.
The towering Norwegian didn’t hesitate as he launched an unstoppable drive straight down the middle with Gordon electing to go to his left.
And that was that! Celtic had completed the phenomenal quadruple, an accomplishment that will surely stand for all time.
Season 2019/20 was unique as author Alex Gordon researched in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, which covers the extraordinary achievement of winning 51 untainted titles in the club’s breathtaking history.
Alex, a former national newspaper sports editor, veteran of fifteen Celtic books, looks at the campaign that brought yet another spectacular treble, the fourth in a row and seventh such feat in the club’s remarkable folklore.
In an edited extract, Alex writes:
UNERRINGLY, the ball swished from the left foot of Callum McGregor and embedded itself low in the net, the perfect execution of a penalty-kick.
St Mirren goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky heard the rustle of the rigging behind him for a fifth time as referee Gavin Duncan prepared to blow his whistle to bring a halt to proceedings. The rain drizzled down on Paradise on the Saturday afternoon of March 7 2020 as the remnants of the 58,998 crowd shuffled their way to the exits.
Worldwide events dictated Celtic followers missed the perennial celebrations for the team’s anticipated title success, a record-equalling ninth consecutive championship and the fifty-first flag in the club’s history. Six days after Leigh Griffiths had collected the matchball following his blistering hat-trick in a cantering 5-0 victory over the Paisley outfit, football went into cold storage as the relentless coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc throughout the universe.
BY THE LEFT…Callum McGregor slots in the spot-kick in the 5-0 win over St Mirren – the last game before the Covid-19 lockdown.
The triumph over St Mirren on a damp day in the city’s east end propelled Celtic sixteen points clear at the Premiership pinnacle, although their nearest rivals Rangers had a game in Dingwall twenty-four hours later. A goal twelve minutes from the end gave Steven Gerrard’s side a 1-0 win over Ross County to cut the advantage to thirteen. In the end, it was merely academic.
On May 18, the Scottish Professional Football League hierarchy took the historic decision to bring down the final curtain after decreeing it would be unsafe to attempt to restart the Premiership. As the death toll and Covid-19 positive tests rose alarmingly, the Scottish Government moved to set up guidelines in an effort to eradicate the risk to life among the populus. Celtic, with only eight games to play, were duly and deservedly awarded the championship.
A near-capacity crowd of 58,887 turned up to witness the unfurling of the eighth successive championship flag at Celtic Park on the sunlit Saturday afternoon of August 3 2019. Liz McNeill and Sadie Chalmers, widows of club legends Billy and Stevie who had sadly passed away within a week of each other four months earlier, did the honours to the first of many rapturous applauses that day.
Two players, Hatem Abd Elhamed and Boli Bolingoli, made their Premiership debuts as they offered defensive cover on the flanks. St Johnstone provided the opposition and they were contemptuously dismissed as the country’s dominant force revelled in the perfect conditions.
Mikey Johnston claimed the first league goal of the campaign in only seven minutes as he weaved serpentine-like in from the left, shimmied one way, went the other and whipped a low drive across Saints keeper Zander Clark into the far corner. The floodgates had been opened.
Ryan Christie snapped up a spectacular hat-trick, Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths also demonstrated their specialised finishing skills while Olivier Ntcham joined the goal procession with his first kick of the ball following his introduction as a substitute midway through the second-half.
Following ninety-plus minutes of eye-catching entertainment and a more than satisfying 7-0 triumph, Celtic were back where they had left off at the completion of the previous campaign, at the top of the Premiership. A two-week hiccup in October interrupted the procession, but that had been swiftly corrected and the team retrieved their accustomed position. They continued to look down on the rest of the league for the remainder of the season on their way to success.
The manager smiled: “That was a perfect performance,” he smiled. “A clean sheet, two attacking full-backs, great in midfield, excellent goals. There was a relentless aspect about our play which I enjoyed. Is there more to come? I’d like to think so.”
Neil Lennon came face to face with Steven Gerrard with the League Cup the prize for the victors. Celtic were going in search of their tenth successive domestic honour and there could not have been a shred of doubt their city neighbours were hell bent upon disrupting their dominance.
In fairness, the Ibrox side performed exceptionally well at Hampden on the murky, saturated Sunday afternoon of December 8.
SILVER STAR…Fraser Forster holds aloft the League Cup after his Man of the Match display at Hampden in December 2019.
Equally, there could be no debating the fact gallant goalkeeper Fraser Forster was the most accomplished Celtic player. It was a heroic performance from the yellow-jerseyed colossus who stubbornly refused to concede.
He was the difference between the teams and endorsed that fact with a superb diving penalty-kick save from Alfredo Morelos only four minutes after Christopher Jullien had sidefooted in a teasing, curling left-wing free-kick from Ryan Christie on the hour mark.
Match official Willie Collum, who had dismissed Christie at Livingston two months earlier, flashed a red card at Jeremie Frimpong for his challenge on Morelos at the infringement that led to the spot-kick.
Celtic were left to play half-an-hour with ten men, but they knuckled down to the task and with Forster simply unbeatable the trophy once again took up residence in the east end of Glasgow.