Under any normal circumstances, a run of consecutive trophy wins would end with defeat, but at this time, with seasons overlapping, Celtic’s four consecutive trebles was bookended by a dramatic Scottish Cup win against Hearts. It was fitting to be able to celebrate a world record, instead of lamenting a defeat. Our run came to an end on a joyous occasion.
As predicted, Neil Lennon returned Scott Brown to the starting line-up ahead of Ismaila Soro and Ryan Christie replaced Jeremie Frimpong at right mid, but Conor Hazard kept his place in goal for his third consecutive (and in total) start for the club.
The captain has his critics but football managers have a habit of choosing their trusted old guard and the reasons why were laid bare on the Hampden turf. Football is not all about your ability to play; it is also about your ability to cope, your fortitude against intimidation, pain and rules being bent against you.
With the score still 0-0, Steven Naismith stamped on the prostrate Scott Brown. Referee John Beaton should have red carded the Hearts striker, instead, he awarded a foul, which led to a moment of Instant Karma, as Ryan Christie curled an inch perfect strike from outside the box into Craig Gordon’s top corner.
Naismith was later booked for striking Scott Brown off the ball as Hearts prepared to take a corner kick. Brown would not allow him near Conor Hazard, as Hearts second goal happened as Naismith elbowed Hazard in the ribs at a corner kick, disabling the ‘keeper’s attempt to make what would have been an easy catch.
The naive among you might expect players and the referee to just go out and do their thing, but as you saw yesterday, refs sometimes take a lax view on Celtic players being stamped on, and despite the ref and a fifth official on the goal line, apparently referees do not always watch out for fouls on the goalkeeper.
What you get from Scott Brown is someone who did not shrink or hide when stamped on and made sure his keeper was protected, despite the blind spots of the attending referees. That at 5’ 8”, he won the header in the first period of extra time that led to Celtic’s third goal, is incidental to his contribution on the day. If you watch the highlights over, do not miss his goal celebration in the direction of Naismith.
John Beaton booked six Hearts players, who were happy to kick their way through the game, and awarded Celtic a penalty, but Steven Naismith was the real referee on the day, he decided what was and was not permissible. For days like these, you need an experienced leader. This is why Scott played.
Cup finals are for winning and when it mattered, Leigh Griffiths, Callum McGregor, Mikey Johnston, Conor Hazard and Kristofer Ajer had what it takes to bring the trophy home. What took place in the preceding 120 minutes of action was as dramatic as seen in the previous 134 finals.
Christie’s opener was as good a Cup Final goal you could hope to see. It was from the classic Christie-low-percentage-shot distance, we have watched so many go high and wide, but this one found the sweet spot. Odsonne Eduard’s penalty dink after Berra’s volleyball block sent us on our way, or so we thought.
Celtic’s utter domination by halftime was replaced by lethargy at the break, Hearts worked the ball into a dangerous crossing position, no defender was able to block the cross or meet the ball as it dropped in front of goal. Liam Boyce did the necessary.
It could easily have been 2-2 before Hearts made it level, courtesy of Naismith’s foul, the Celtic defence was in disarray. Confidence is a fragile commodity at the moment. After the leveller, Callum McGregor pushed higher up field and Celtic regained some control of the game. They created several good chances, all of which fell to Odsonne Edouard. Whatever ails the striker, it has not passed. Hearts had a chance to win the game near the end of 90 minutes but, on that occasion, Ginnelly panicked.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. You know that we are in trouble when Leigh Griffiths gets the call. Post-match, Neil Lennon called him a “footballing genius”. Yet again, he was the sugar in our tea. He got a foot on Scott Brown’s header from a corner but Craig Gordon blocked. No one in the game is faster onto a rebound inside the six-yard box than Griffiths, surely now Celtic would hold on?
Conor Hazard came for and missed the cross that brought Hearts level in the second period of extra-time. These mistakes can damage a career but the day was not finished for the young Irishman.
Leigh Griffiths and Callum McGregor convince me they know what to do with a penalty kick. Ryan Christie is better from >20 yards than 12. I would also allow Odsonne Eduard to retire from penalty duty, as his non-Panenka record is poor and keepers will now anticipate the chip.
Mikey Johnston has the temperament and technique to cope with these scenarios, while Kristofer Ajer’s decisive kick would have taken Craig Gordon into the net with it, had the keeper got in the way.
With each team down to two penalties left, Hearts were ahead. Conor Hazard twice threw himself across the goal to save. Celtic’s performance was error strewn and anything but pretty, but there was unrelenting joy at another world record for this magnificent football club.