We are living in the best of times. Some of us have lived through the worst of times – those nine winters of despair back in the late eighties and early nineties when a victory in the Tennent’s Sixes was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a Pools’ win.
When the performance is nowhere near what the team is capable of, and when the opposition dominates large sections of a cup final encounter, as was the case at a rain-soaked Hampden this afternoon, those seasons of darkness can offer a stark reminder of what is important – the result.
Steven Gerrard won’t get an asterisk in the history books for effort. His team were losers; despite playing against 10 men for half-an-hour; despite having the vast majority of the refereeing decisions in their favour; despite being awarded a penalty just three minutes after going behind.
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Neil Lennon’s history-makers won their tenth domestic trophy in succession. It is an achievement that deserves all the plaudits that you’d expect to go their way. They won’t get the credit they deserve, though. Not from the Rangers-pandering sycophantic hacks whose blue-tinted specs seem to airbrush from their copy, anything in support of this hard-fought Celtic victory.
A half-fit Elyounoussi, who struggled through a first-half where he ran as though he was wading through treacle; no recognised centre-forward in the starting line-up; and a left-winger playing left-back… Lennon’s starting line-up could certainly be described as makeshift, but Celtic’s gaffer made no excuses. He adapted, persevered, and ground out a victory that was as satisfying as any of the seven domestic cups his club have now won in succession.
Some of Lennon’s most dependable acolytes were way off their best in the Hampden rain. Ryan Christie, James Forrest and Callum McGregor failed to dominate in a manner the Celtic faithful have become accustomed to. But they were dug out of a hole by the tenacious Jonny Hayes, the live-wire Jeremie Frimpong, and the orchestrator Scott Brown. The substitutes, too, were pivotal: Edouard won the free-kick from which Jullien scored the winner; Johnston immediately injected a threat that Forrest has lacked; and Bitton added a veneer of calmness after the loss of young Frimpong.
Far from being a vintage Hoops performance, the 2019 League Cup will always belong to Fraser Forster. The big Englishman has been the signing of Neil Lennon’s second tenure and underlined again why Spaniards described him as “La Gran Muralla”. Rangers’ fans may have other terms of endearment reserved for the indisputable man of the match.
Today, we witnessed the best that Rangers have to offer. Contrarily, Celtic showed us their worst hand. But this still resulted in Celtic being crowned as League Cup victors.
To overlook this unique run of success would be foolish. No one will have a better opportunity to derail this Celtic machine than Gerrard had today. Celtic will feed off this against-the-odds victory. The threat of a quadruple treble is real.
Paul John DykesWatch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind