Betfred Cup Final (what we used to call the League Cup Final before the rights were sold for hard cash).
I know how Steven Gerrard must feel. I had two quid on Julien for first goal and lost the bookies line. Going further back than that I remember when Celtic used to play Rangers off the park during the Tommy Burns era, only for Brian Laudrup to gallop up the park and score the winner and the flying pig, Andy Goram, to make save after save. Here we had Fraser Foster save a penalty from Alfredo Morelos in the second half, and a world-class save from Ryan Jack in the first half. He also made a fistful of other top-notch saves. Fraser Foster might well have been Neil Lennon’s best signing.
The strange thing about the aftermath of the final is both mangers can feel quietly pleased. Julien was offside when he scored. Rangers did batter Celtic from the first to the last of the 96th minute. By some margin this was Celtic’s worst performance against Rangers in years. Worse than the 2—0 defeat at Ibrox last year under Rodgers. Worse than the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden to a Rangers team playing in the First Division. Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Nir Biton, and Leigh Griffiths played in that game. Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic came on as subs. I was looking for James Forrest’s name, but it was missing. You’d be hard pushed to have noticed he was playing yesterday.
Neil Lennon brought Forrest into the Celtic team and he’s been a consistent presence since then and in the ten domestic trophies won in the last three seasons. He’s added goals to his game and managers such as Rodgers were quick to tell us how hard he worked. But we’re not digging up bags of coal. Our eyes don’t deceive us. He was rotten yesterday and not much better in the last home game against Hamilton. But his performance was hidden in a team display that never reached the level of mediocrity. Ironically, the miss of the game was not Morelos from twelve yards of the penalty spot (and yes Forster did move off his line) but Mikey Johnston’s. He was played in by Odsonne Edouard and had a one-on-one with McGregor, but put it by the post. That would have given Celtic a 2—0 lead and game over signs would have flashed around the stadium. And despite Ranger’s defenders missing some good chances to score from corners and free kicks, the biggest miss of the afternoon was Kris Ajer’s free header, six yards out, and all he had to do was score.
I was surprised to hear Lennon praising Ajer. I think he must have had on his James Forrest specs on. At one point he tried to play Morelos offside, got nudged aside by the Ibrox psychopath as he ran down the touchline. We knew what was coming next, because Ajer does at least one of these Inspector Gadget tackles every game. Stick a long leg out and hopes to hit the ball. He didn’t, Morelos was in on goal. Only for Fraser Foster to start laughing at the Columbian striker and put him out of his stride. Morelos should have been sent off for kicking Scott Brown, Julien and any other Celtic player within spitting distance when the ball was at the other end of the park.
Lennon had a big call to make before the game, whether to play Edouard or not. Player power. He let the French man decide. He was on the bench and came on to do everything that Lewis Morgan did not and could not. Connor Goldson is not the best centre half in Scottish football, but having Lewis Morgan as an opponent was like having a day off yesterday. Morgan’s not a centre forward and not even the best winger at Celtic. He’s probably fourth or fifth choice. Vakoun Issouf Bayo, who does not play as a forward for Celtic because he’s either injured or not good enough (probably the latter) wasn’t fit to fill in for Edouard. Neither was Leigh Griffiths deemed not sharp enough or fit enough for a place on the bench. In contrast, Mohamed Elyounoussi was deemed fit enough to start despite missing a few games, but was subbed at half time when the score was 0—0. To use the argument he wasn’t the worst is to invite comparisons for the race to the bottom and there you’ll meet James Forrest, who’ll outpace you and show you his winner’s medals.
Only three Celtic players deserved to pick up a winner’s medal, because individually all the others lost their battles all over the park. Fraser Forster is the giant in which stand the shadows of Edouard, who came on in the second half to cause the Rangers defence problems and Jeremie Frimpong. Little Pingpong might have been the smallest guy on the pitch, he might have given away a penalty—Julien and Ayer sleeping as Morelos got in behind them and Pingpong was the wrong side of the Rangers’ attacker—but the little full back was Celtic’s best defender and attacker. Apart from Forster, Celtic’s best player full stop. He’s a gem of the Kieran Tierney variety and the right back position that was once so troublesome looks sorted.
I’ll take any kind of win over Rangers, whether it’s darts, ludo or pingpong. Yesterday’s final was the tenth on the trot. A marvellous achievement. We have the luxury of a Europa tie against Cluj that is a practice match for Sunday when we play Hibs. I expect us to win there and for Young Boys to beat Rangers and Motherwell to win at Fir Par against Rangers too. Wins like yesterday give a bit of breathing space, but the next game and the one after that are the only ones that matter. Old glory is no glory. Yesterday’s news. Celtic need a replacement and back up for Edouard. Simple. And if they can’t put their foot on the ball and play football, which they didn’t manage yesterday, then the players shouldn’t be at Celtic. Simple. The pleasing thing about yesterday was the win and not the manner in which we won. Quite simply, we didn’t deserve to, but yesterday’s fixture also knocked about twenty million quid off the over-inflated price tag for Morelos. He was that bad yesterday he should have been wearing the green and white hoops.