IT IS the trilogy which could define Celtic’s bid for the treble. Yesterday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final draw means the Scottish champions will now play Dundee United on three consecutive weekends in three different competitions.
The plum last-eight tie of the Scottish Cup will take place at Tannadice on either 7 or 8 March. The teams will reconvene at Hampden in the League Cup Final on 15 March, then face each other on Premiership business at Celtic Park on 21 March.
With Celtic manager Ronny Deila having repeatedly stated his ambition to win the domestic treble in his first season at the club, Jackie McNamara’s United now present a multiple threat to that aim. The games between the sides have been handed extra spice with Celtic’s transfer deadline day raid on United to sign midfielder Stuart Armstrong and winger Gary Mackay-Steven in a £2 million deal.
Although the pair cannot play in either of the cup fixtures, there is a clear sense that Celtic have effectively weakened United for the remainder of the campaign.
But Tannadice midfielder Chris Erskine, one of those hoping to fill the void left by Armstrong and Mackay-Steven, is optimistic they remain capable of derailing Celtic’s quest for complete domestic dominance.
“Someone has to beat Celtic to win the Scottish Cup and I don’t see why it can’t be us,” said Erskine. “It’s not ideal having to play them three games in a row and I’m sure we would have wanted to avoid each other at this stage. But I’m sure Celtic will be thinking they would rather not have drawn us. We have beaten them already this season at Tannadice in the league. We rode our luck a bit that day but got the victory we deserved. I don’t see why we can’t beat them again in the Scottish Cup. We know that when we are on our game, we are as good as anyone in Scotland.
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“Hopefully, on the day, we will play well and get the victory.
“Stuart and Gary have moved on and we just have to move on without them. I’m just glad they can’t play against us in the cups as they are two very good players. But we have other good players who are ready to come in and take their places.
“A lot of our boys are still hurting after losing last year’s Scottish Cup final. Getting to a final and losing is probably the worst thing that can happen to you. I know there’s a massive determination among the squad to go one better this time around.”
Celtic have only achieved the domestic treble three times – twice under Jock Stein (1967 and 1969) and once under Martin O’Neill (2001) – in their history, underlining the difficulty of the feat. But midfielder Liam Henderson says it has been set out as a prime target from day one of Deila’s tenure last summer.
“The manager has been talking to us about the treble a lot,” said Henderson. “All of the players want it, too. It has been reiterated since the start of the season that it’s what we want. You have to take each game as it comes and United will be the next hurdle in the Scottish Cup.
“Winning the treble is a tough task and we are still only in February. We just need to keep the performances going because they have been very good in the last few months. “We are sticking to the manager’s gameplan.”