John Hartson has branded his former club Celtic’s current domination of Scottish football as “almost embarrassing” and believes the onus is firmly on Rangers manager Steven Gerrard to bring it to a halt next month.
The first Old Firm domestic cup final for nine seasons will take place at Hampden on 8 December after Betfred Cup holders Celtic and Gerrard’s Ibrox side swatted aside Hibs and Hearts respectively in the weekend semi-finals.
Celtic will go into the showpiece occasion seeking to extend their remarkable run of consecutive domestic trophy triumphs to ten as they eye the first leg of what could be a fourth successive “treble”.
Hartson can scarcely credit the extent of Celtic’s stranglehold on silverware but feels Neil Lennon’s side now face a sterner challenge from a Rangers outfit revitalised under Gerrard.
“It would be a major coup for Rangers to win this final,” said Hartson. “They have to find a way to stop Celtic.
“Celtic are just ridiculous at the moment with their domination. Nine trophies out of nine is almost embarrassing.
“Rangers are trying to find a way. They are backing their manager and he has brought in some quality.
“Steven Gerard was brought in to try to improve a situation where Celtic were miles ahead in every department. He’s been given funds to buy quality players. He’s brought them in for sure and some good experience.
“There’s a challenge there this year – a better challenge. I think that’s good for the league and the clubs. Celtic will welcome a challenge. We know all about what Rangers are trying to do this year in terms of where Celtic are.
“Whether or not they will be strong enough on the day, time will tell. But winning a cup final does give you momentum and with there being nothing between them in the league so far, it can make a big difference to get that first piece of silverware early in the season.”
Hartson scored eight times in 23 Old Firm games during his successful five-year spell as a Celtic player, enjoying many high points in the fixture.
But it is one of his disappointments against Rangers, the League Cup final of 2003, which still haunts him when he reflects upon his time in Scottish football. With Rangers leading 2-1, Hartson had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside before then missing a late penalty kick as the Ibrox men claimed the trophy.
“I was robbed that day,” said Hartson. “I scored a perfectly good goal during that game, two yards onside – proven. It was two yards onside, it wasn’t one centimetre – talk about clear and obvious.
“Then we got a penalty and Henrik Larsson [right] was the penalty taker, but he had only just come back into the team after breaking his jaw against Livingston in an SPL game. While he was out of the team, I had scored two or three penalties for Celtic.
“So we get to the final, and Henrik is generally the penalty taker, but being the consummate professional that he was, he chucks me the ball. He said, ‘you’ve been taking the penalties, you’ve been scoring’.
“Stefan Klos goes one way, I put the ball a yard past the post the other way. It was as low as I felt during my football career.
“Losing the play-off with Wales against Russia in Cardiff to go to Portugal 2004 in the Euros was similar, that was how low I felt.
“You feel as if you have let everybody down, you’ve missed a penalty. Henrik should have taken it!
“I’ve had that feeling of disappointment, and I’ve scored the winning goal in Old Firm games several times against Rangers.
“I’ve had great success against them and I’ve had upset as well. But they are great games to play in.
“There will be a red-hot atmosphere. Someone’s got to win, and we all know what they are all about.”
l John Hartson was presenting a cheque for £25,000 on behalf of his Foundation to Breast Cancer Now.
The Hartson Foundation is entering its tenth year and will continue to raise money throughout 2020 for worthy causes.