It was a final framed by the worthy and the unworthy. In Fraser Forster, these opposites melded. The Celtic goalkeeper was a divine presence for the winners on an afternoon when, despite looking like mere mortals against a superior Rangers, they extended their God-like grip on the Scottish game with a tenth straight domestic honour.
And it was the 32-year-old keeper who appeared truly sanctified with a series of outstanding stops that culminated in a 63rd-minute penalty save to deny Alfredo Morelos the chance to turn the encounter Celtic’s way.
His manager Neil Lennon felt as much, bowing down before him as the club celebrated with their support a triumph secured by ten men on a day when Forster’s heroics were akin to the endeavours of ten men. Yet the English international, on loan from Southampton for a second spell at Parkhead, maintained it was he who had a right to fall prostrate in thanks to Lennon for giving him the chance to feel so alive on a football pitch again following a moribund spell at St Mary’s.
“That is the first time I’ve had a manager do that,” Forster said of Lennon’s ‘not worthy’ gesture. “But I’ve always said the manager has been great for me and my career. He brought me here to Celtic the first time when I was a young keeper and he gave me my big opportunity. He’s now given me another opportunity to come here and I will be forever grateful to him. It’s fantastic to be at this club and part of a big occasion like this.
“I’ve always loved working with him. He’s such a good man manager. He knows what makes people tick and what makes people feel good. I will be eternally grateful to him. I’ve had such special times with him and I know what he thinks of me and the confidence he gives me. I could never turn the chance to work with him down and it’s always nice to repay a manager for the faith he has in you.”
A special alchemy seems to occur when Forster sports Celtic colours, his storied display yesterday sure to be recalled with the same awe as the keeper proving an unbreakable wall in the Champions League win over Barcelona in 2012 in his first spell, and when he repelled the late charge of Lazio at Celtic Park last month.
On neither of those occasions did his goal remain intact in the face of a spot-kick, though. “You just kind of go with your gut instinct. Luckily enough for me I went the right way and I was able to make the save,” he said. “Honestly, I just had a feeling and I decided which way to go. I just went with my gut feeling. I didn’t overthink it. There’s been plenty of times when I’ve gone one way and the penalty taker has gone the other way and it’s gone in. It was great to make the save today. It was a good day for me.”
Forster never at any stage started to believe that the fates had decreed he would not be picking the ball from the net. “You never look too far ahead. It’s nice to make the saves but you never know what will happen next. It only takes a moment to score but luckily that didn’t happen and I’m delighted personally to make the saves. We were clinical when we got that one chance and the big man stuck it away nicely.”
That big man was Christopher Jullien, of course, who allowed his emotions to pour from him in cavorting around the Hampden turf after a decider settled by the defender sweeping in a free-kick dropped into the penalty area by Ryan Christie on the hour mark. Television replays showed he was one of three Celtic players offside when the deadball was curled in, but he had no interest in such details.
“Sometimes at set-pieces I start offside and then come back,” said Jullien. “I scored reflexively today and then looked to the referee, who said it was good. After that, I just enjoyed the moment. My family hasn’t been to see me very often since I came here and to have so many of them at Hampden to see me win my first trophy meant so much to me. There was so much enjoyment and I saw the fans having a party.”
A success to savour like no other Jullien has enjoyed in a career that six years ago brought him an under-20s World Cup winners’ medal with France. “It was unbelievable. One of the best days ever. This goal gave me a trophy and there’s no words for it. It’s hard to describe how good it felt rushing towards the fans at the end. It’s been a long, long time since I had a medal around my neck. With the Under-20 World Cup with France, and I didn’t play in the final. For sure [this was better]. To play, to score, everything was perfect.”
For Rangers, the day could hardly have been more gut-wrenching, with Celtic throwing in a stinker for their seventh domestic final win in three years, yet coming away smelling of roses. The two clubs will meet again in three weeks at Celtic Park for a Premiership tussle that could have a significant bearing on how the title race pans out as Celtic now pursue a fourth straight treble, and a ninth straight title success. The 26-year-old centre-back, pictured inset left, didn’t care to speculate on how the cruel circumstances of their final defeat would affect Rangers.
“I don’t know; I don’t play for Rangers – otherwise I wouldn’t have this winner’s medal,” he said. “But I think this is going to be in their mind and that’s their business. This final and this moment will stay with us forever and that is a good thing for us. There are a lot of games left and more trophies to win so we’ll see what happens next.”