There is no chance of Mikael Lustig being blasé about the Scottish Cup assignment that awaits the Celtic side he will skipper away to third-tier opponents Stranraer tomorrow afternoon. Not because of the folly of that. More the Follo.
At previous club Rosenborg – the king-pins of the Norwegian game – Lustig and his team-mates thought they were on course for a double in 2010 when pitted against Follo in the semi-final of their national cup. In existence for only a decade and mostly part-time, in September that year they were struggling to avoid dropping down to the third tier. Rosenborg, in contrast, were then unbeaten in the top flight they were within weeks of clinching.
What happened when the pair met in Ski Stadium, the home of Follo, was deemed the biggest cup shock in Norwegian football history. The 3-2 scoreline – which paved the way for Ronny Deila’s Stromsgodset to beat the unfancied Follo in the final – was an outcome to knock Celtic’s recent Scottish Cup calamities against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Clyde and Ross County into a cocked hat. And even the readily forgotten humbling by a team from Greenock that remains vivid for Lustig.
“When it comes to cup shocks, I had a big one when we lost at home to Morton [in the League Cup in 2013]. That was quite a big shock. But the biggest one was the Follo semi.
“We got off to a good start, scoring the first goal and we probably thought the game was over. But they scored a wonder goal in the latter minutes to take it to extra time and then we lost in that. We had one game to get to a final and Rosenborg had not won the double for many years, so that was a real big opportunity. It was tough.”
The Morton muck-up in September 2013 didn’t seem quite so tough for all connected with the losing side. Precious little was made of arguably the worst cup result in Celtic’s modern-day history, bar none. In no small part that was attributable to the fact Neil Lennon’s side were then in the midst of a Champions League group campaign. The Irishman, indeed, still felt able to giggle during his radio post-match interview as he digested the scatty 1-0 extra-time loss to a team then hurling towards the third tier.
“Especially at home, you’d think it would be no problem, but that’s football,” Lustig said. “If you don’t score, the longer it goes on, it can take only one touch and they got a penalty in that game for a handball. These things can happen.”
Deila cannot afford for this sort of thing to happen to his Celtic team at Stair Park. A Champions League last 16 in early 2013, qualification to the group stages the previous month and the minor status of the League Cup inoculated Lennon against criticism following the Morton mishap. Deila’s inability to compete successfully on the continent places him in a very different position.
“At that time we had Europe to focus on and we did really well that season. But now we are out of Europe and we are focused on domestic football. If we go out, we are going to be really disappointed,” said Lustig with masterly understatement.
“We are big favourites but if we don’t go in with a 100 per cent attitude then it can be hard. I have been there before. It’s January and the surface might be quite bad as well, so we have to go there and get a good start. We have to be focused. We have to treat it like a normal game. The coaches have had a look at them and we will have a look at them.”
Deila’s team must look for a treble in order to salvage their season, however harsh that might sound. It is simply the times we live in and Lustig doesn’t seem fearful at being measured up to domestic perfection.
“Of course we can win the treble,” he said. “We are favourites in all competitions and there are still plenty of games to go. You can see what can happen – a referee can make a mistake and everything can change. We can do something wrong as well. There’s a long way to go but we are aiming for that.”