Celtic saw their complete dominance of domestic football in the opening phase of Brendan Rodgers’ management translated into a historic first piece of silverware as Aberdeen were swatted aside in a largely one-sided Betfred Cup final.
The 100th major honour of Celtic’s history was claimed with a degree of comfort which will have led to the odds on Rodgers going on to land the domestic treble in his first season in charge being shortened considerably.
First-half goals by Tom Rogic and the excellent James Forrest effectively ended the final as a contest before half-time, with Moussa Dembele’s 17th goal of the campaign completing the scoring midway through the second half.
It was a hugely anti-climactic performance by Aberdeen, Derek McInnes’ side fatally appearing to lack any genuine conviction it could be their day. Aside from a fleeting period of attacking intent at the start of the second half, by which stage the stable door had long been left unlocked, they were unable to cause much consternation for a Celtic defence which kept an eighth consecutive clean sheet in domestic competition.
It was an afternoon which simply underlined the gulf between Celtic and the best of the rest in Scottish football, a gap which only looks likely to increase on Rodgers’ watch in the coming weeks and months. In common with so much of their work under the former Swansea and Liverpool boss since his arrival at the club, there was real purpose and assurance in Celtic’s play from the opening moments. Dominance of possession was immediately secured, laying the platform to establish the comfortable half-time lead which Aberdeen were never likely to recover.
McInnes handed a starting berth to James Maddison and there were a few initial glimpses of the on-loan Norwich City midfielder’s excellent technique which suggested he might be capable of causing problems to a Celtic defence which has not been breached by Scottish opposition since September.
But that hint of promise for the visitors soon faded as Celtic set about exposing the comparative vulnerability of their backline in which goalkeeper Joe Lewis was forced into his first save of the afternoon in the 12th minute, keeping out a Dembele header after the French striker had been left unmarked to get on the end of Emilio Izaguirre’s cross.
Four minutes later, Lewis was left helpless as Rogic opened the scoring. It was a strike of characteristically high quality by the Australian midfielder who collected the ball on the right of the Aberdeen penalty area after Andrew Considine had been unable to cut out effectively a through pass by Jozo Simunovic. Rogic stepped inside and guided a superb left-foot shot beyond the despairing dive of Lewis into the corner of the net.
Aberdeen tried to produce an immediate response and Craig Gordon was called into action for the first time when he made a smart save to keep out a close-range header by Considine who had got on the end of a Maddison free-kick.
But Celtic, driven on by captain Scott Brown, whose combative approach was indulged by referee John Beaton a little longer than Aberdeen felt was appropriate, were not about to let the initiative slip away from them.
They tightened their grip on the final when Forrest doubled their lead eight minutes before the interval. The winger had come close moments earlier, dragging a 20-yard shot narrowly wide after a bustling run across the penalty area after Patrick Roberts had created the chance.
The Aberdeen defence failed to heed that warning as they inexplicably backed off Forrest when he collected a pass from Rogic and surged into the penalty area. He took advantage of the time and space offered, stepping between Considine and Anthony O’Connor to steer a firm shot beyond Lewis’s right hand.
The game already looked well and truly up for Aberdeen but they did produce a flurry of resistance at the start of the second half, forcing Celtic on to the back foot for a period in which Brown was finally booked for one foul too many.
Jonny Hayes, who had struggled to make any impression in the first half, suddenly carried a threat for the Pittodrie men but the goal they desperately needed from this brief spell of ascendancy did not materialise. Instead, it was Celtic who ruthlessly swept away any flickering doubt about the outcome when they made it 3-0 from the spot. There was no dispute about the penalty award, O’Connor hanging his head in resignation after he tripped Forrest. Dembele stepped forward to send Lewis the wrong way and claim his fifth goal in the tournament.
Stuart Armstrong should have added gloss to the scoreline in the closing stages, shooting wide from a prime position after being set up by Forrest, but the scale of Celtic’s superiority really required no further embellishment.