The ability to go at a rate of knots and change tack deftly might have allowed Patrick Roberts to do more than help a supreme Celtic sink Rangers without a trace in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final. The treatment meted out to the winger in the early stages at Hampden could also play a part in Brendan Rodgers’ men having captain Scott Brown on board when they set course for Ibrox at the weekend.
Inside three minutes the 20-year-old Manchester City loanee was wiped out when Andy Halliday flew in on him with a wild, late lunge that brought only a yellow from referee Willie Collum. Meanwhile, whether Brown plays on Saturday in the sixth and final Old Firm derby of the season will be settled by an SFA appeal on Thursday over the automatic two-match ban he received for the straight red card shown him by Don Robertson. That dismissal came for a challenge on Liam Boyce against Ross County the Sunday before that appeared to be a lesser offence than that committed by Halliday.
Roberts was asked if the difference in card colour for the two transgressions gave him hope that Brown might be successful in his appeal – the triggering of which at the Easter weekend allowed him to play in the semi-final.
“Yeah. If that’s only a yellow why was Scott’s a red card?” the Englishman said.
“I don’t want to say too much but it was a bad tackle and thankfully I didn’t get hurt. It’s an Old Firm game and maybe the ref thought about it like that and gave a yellow. I felt the ref was pretty good and thankfully we won.”
Roberts wasn’t interested in finger-pointing towards the officials or opponents in the wake of the most incisive displays of his 18-month loan period, something that was reflected in his assessment of the fact that it wasn’t just Halliday who could have walked for attempting to stop Roberts in crude fashion in the opening stages. Teenager Mylde Beerman was booked for a heavy challenge and then in the immediate aftermath was not penalised for deliberately tripping the winger.
“Beerman is only young and I know what it feels like to be young and playing in a big game under pressure like that,” Roberts offered in magnanimous fashion. “It’s tough and my job was to keep getting at him and force him into mistakes. I felt I did that at times, although he did pretty well against me. He showed good experience at times and he’s a good young player who can do well in the game.”
Sunday was Roberts’ first start against Rangers this season. The player has seen more action through the middle as an emergency striker of late than the flanks, with Scott Sinclair and James Forrest the preferred wing options. In the semi-final, though, Roberts was given the nod over Forrest, and fully capitalised on the opportunity.
“It’s tough to get in the team. We have had a great run this year and there is a lot of competition for places. The standard is high and whoever the manager puts in does a good job. It was a good team performance more than anything.
“It’s been the perfect loan move for me. I honestly couldn’t have asked for any more. I have come to a big club where there is a lot of expectation and you are playing under big pressure. It’s huge and we have managed to have a lot of success. It’s worked out really well for me.
“I see a big difference in myself. I am a lot more mature and I’m just really happy with my progress.
“Last year was good and I’ve now played over 50 games for the club. I have got three medals already and I now have a treble in mind too. I want to win everything and I want to finish the season really strongly. There is still a lot to play for. Winning the Scottish Cup would just top it all off. This season has been great under the manager. I’ve learned a lot, scored goals, created them and also played in a lot of big games. It’s been a great loan spell at Celtic.”
The greatest possible end seems certain to elude Roberts, though. He proved an integral member of the England under-20 squad that last month qualified for the World Cup finals that will take place in South Korea next month. Starting in the middle of May, England are scheduled to play their third and final group game against the hosts on 26 May – the day before Celtic will meet Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final that is the one more victory they require to complete the club’s first domestic clean sweep since 2000.
The fact the Roberts is forever circumspect when asked about the scheduling clash tells its own story about where he sees himself in Scottish Cup final week – on the other side of the planet as a, by then, former Celtic player who received a good grounding before hoping for a crack at the highest level of the English game with parent club Manchester City.
“I can’t really say too much about that at the moment. We just have to see what happens. All I know is that it’s not up to me,” said Roberts, Celtic being obliged to release the player to the England FA for the Fifa tournament.
“I can’t really say anything more. I’m just glad that Celtic are in the final.”