Celtic under Brendan Rodgers have redrawn the parameters of the possible in the Scottish game. Fitting, then, that there were some pretty pictures sketched out at Hampden as they achieved what had proved impossible for the previous 71 seasons in becoming the first team to claim back-to-back trebles.
It wasn’t a vintage display that snared Celtic a 38th Scottish Cup triumph and ensured that Rodgers’ men have hoovered up every domestic honour across his remarkable two years in charge. The colours overall were far more pallid, both in the encounter and the celebrations, than the vivid euphoria that greeted the club’s dramatic clinching of an unprecedented invincible treble at the same venue 12 months earlier. There was, however, sufficient flourish in some of their key brushstrokes to paint Motherwell’s artisanship out of the final landscape.
Celtic have now racked up 18 straight win in domestic cup ties – registering an astonishing 14 clean sheets in the process – through being absolutely secure in the knowledge that they will have big players that will turn up and produce big moments.
Yesterday, it was the turn of Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic and Olivier Ntcham to be the men making the difference on an afternoon where performance levels in the winning team were otherwise more adequate than anything else. Symbolic of their second treble, in certain respects.
Yet, for all that Motherwell never stopped grafting and giving it their absolute everything, and for all that they had chances and a courageous late rally, the truth is the outcome was essentially settled after only 11 minutes.
McGregor is becoming the aesthete for such occasions and his opening goal was indeed a thing of beauty, combining panache and precision.
When a Charles Dunne clearing header dropped at the edge of the box, he was on to it with the agility and menace of a cat pouncing on a ball of wool. Without breaking stride, he flicked it forward with his left foot and in the next instant lashed it home with his right.
Celtic took charge then. Their criss-crossing to open up the pitch, both with passes and personnel had five and six players stretching their opponents in the final third. In this passage there seemed at times to be two and three of Rogic. Irrepressible and – in earning a new five-year deal this week – irreplaceable, Motherwell simply could not suppress him.
It cost them dearly when he was the fulcrum in a four-man move that led to the second goal in the 25th minute. The Australian received the ball out wide from McGregor and then fed it back inside to Moussa Dembele. The Frenchman then took over, holding it up for countryman Ntcham. He opted for accuracy more than power to tuck a low drive into the right-hand corner of Trevor Carson’s net from the edge of the box, the strike grazing the heel of Cedric Kipre on its way in.
At this point, the fear was that Stephen Robinson’s men could be facing a flailing. Instead, they started to swap chances with a Celtic that played as if they subconsciously considered the tie over. Curtis Main, Motherwell’s main threat in attack, blazed over when he should have tested Craig Gordon before the interval, and did so with an arcing effort the keeper clawed over straight after it.
In the closing stages, the Lanarkshire side altered the dynamic in forcing Celtic on to the back foot. Robinson was firmly of the belief that their endeavours should have changed the composition of their opponents’ team, convinced that Dedryck Boyata should have been shown a red and not a yellow card from referee Kevin Clancy after he tugged back the motoring Chris Cadden as he reached the D of the penalty box in the 78th minute. From the resultant free-kick, substitute Gael Bigirimana curled the ball onto the crossbar. Close but not close enough, typifying a season wherein the Fir Park men were vanquished but no passive victims in both cup finals.
Rodgers’ Celtic, meanwhile, simply continue to raise the bar.