The fallibility of Celtic was demonstrated in the Ibrox derby loss with which the club ended 2019. The first encounter of this year, though, provides Brendan Rodgers’ men with the opportunity to demonstrate their is a domain wherein they remain peerless.
This evening’s hosting of Airdrie in the Scottish Cup fourth round is the 23rd domestic cup tie the club will have played under Rodgers in his two-and-a-half years in charge. All previous 22 haven’t just been won, there has never been even a hint of a replay across four successful cup campaigns.
Celtic’s quest to land a treble treble would require them to complete a double slice of the unprecedented in the Scottish Cup. Even though their 38 wins makes them the kingpins of the competition, unlike Rangers, Aberdeen, Queen’s Park and Vale Of Leven, they have never won the tournament in three successive years.
Such epoch-making potential patently excites Callum McGregor. But he knows that the previous triumphs have owed everything to dealing with each cup challenge on its merits.
“I wasn’t aware the club hadn’t won three in a row,” said the 25-year-old. “It’s obviously the target for this group of players and there’s no doubt it would be another bit of history for us. It starts tomorrow and we need to be fully focused on the job.
“We know how tough these competitions are to win. It’s about putting in performances to get you to Hampden in the first place. Tomorrow is about getting through the tie and seeing who we get in the next round.
“Our cup record has been great, with 22 straight wins but we all know how difficult cup ties are. If you are not on your game then there’s obviously a big chance you could slip up and be knocked out.
“We’ve shown remarkable consistency in the cup games under the manager and we deserve praise for continually bringing that level of performance. It shows how good the squad is, how good the manager is in setting us up to ensure there are no shocks and we do deserve credit there is no doubt. We know good Celtic teams in the past have slipped up, by the law of averages it can happen. So it’s an incredible record to have and one we’re proud of and one we’re determined to keep going. We have played big games, big finals, but we have always brought of A game.”
Rodgers is likely to bring new faces into the fray this evening, with teenage striker Timothy Weah likely to lead the line following his loan move from Paris Saint-Germain, and Oliver Burke expected to see game time following his loan switch from West Bromwich Albion. Both have settled in well, said McGregor, but he cautioned against too much pressure being placed on Weah, the only available striker to Rodgers with Odsonne Edouard injured, Leigh Griffiths taking time out from football, and the paperwork on newly signed Ivorian forward Vakoun Issouf Bayo still to be completed.
“Timothy is still a young lad, he’s only 18 so he’s not going to come in and be the main man straight away,” said McGregor. “It’s up to the other lads to help guide him and not to expect too much from him.”
The Scotland international certainly proves himself an adult in an often infantile world, meanwhile, in giving his take on the refereeing issues that has swirled around the game this season.
“It’s a tough one for the players,” he said. “We don’t mind the referees when we win but when you lose there is always something to be said. The players are asked to do their jobs on the pitch and it’s the same for the referees. Players have bad days, referees have bad days. “And as I say, there’s never a problem when you win and you’ll find that with other teams that when they’ve lost a game it’s probably the referee’s fault more than anything. As a club we need to look after ourselves on the pitch.”