No helicopter required - why Celtic's semi-final loss won't lead to 2005-style title collapse

The fall-out from Rangers chopping down Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final has given way to talk of a chopper.

Motherwell keeper Gordon Marshall saves at the feet of Celtic's John Hartson in one of the moments that resulted in Martin O'Neill's men blowing the title on the May 22, 2005 final day of title campaign of 17 years ago - from a leading position weeks earleir similiar to the one that Ange Postecoglou's men are in. Hartson is convinced the parallels will end there despite the chat in the wake of Rangers' derby Scottish Cup semi-final win the other day. (Pic by Jeff Holmes/SNS Group).
Motherwell keeper Gordon Marshall saves at the feet of Celtic's John Hartson in one of the moments that resulted in Martin O'Neill's men blowing the title on the May 22, 2005 final day of title campaign of 17 years ago - from a leading position weeks earleir similiar to the one that Ange Postecoglou's men are in. Hartson is convinced the parallels will end there despite the chat in the wake of Rangers' derby Scottish Cup semi-final win the other day. (Pic by Jeff Holmes/SNS Group).

More specifically, a helicopter fuelled up and with the league championship trophy strapped into the back seat that some now believe the Ibrox side’s re-igniting of their campaign could yet lead to being required come the last day of the cinch Premiership season – despite Ange Postecoglou’s team holding a six-point advantage over their fiercest foes with only the five post-split fixtures remaining. John Hartson knows only too well how an improbable turnaround can become reality. The Welshman was leading the line for Celtic when they threw away a five-point lead inside the final four league games of the 2004-05 season … a last-day defeat at Motherwell – the home side netting twice in the dying minutes to win 2-1 – forcing the helicopter then flying the silverware to Lanarkshire to divert and drop it off to shock champions Rangers.

Memories of that agonising afternoon are sure to have Celtic supporters twitchy ahead of their team pitching up in the Highlands on Sunday to face Ross County, before Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men are hosted by their title rivals a week later. Hartson, though, doesn’t believe Celtic’s nerve will fail them as it did 17 years ago, when ultimately there was a six-point swing at the climax. And his confidence is attributable to the one crucial difference between the two scenarios. “OK, so there is one more game against Rangers to come at Celtic Park and now you are playing the teams in the top six, so you know it is going to be competitive and there are no easy games. But they do have a good cushion – and that six points is realistically seven with the goal difference of 19 in their favour,” said the 47-year-old, with Rangers boasting a superior goal difference in 2005. “I can’t see them letting it slip. We made the crucial error in 2005 when we lost to Motherwell and Rangers won it, but I just cannot see that happening. I think Celtic are a different animal these days under Ange.”

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What they cannot be now, though, are treble winners following the 2-1 semi-final loss. Hartson believes that a first domestic defeat in 34 games cannot be allowed to impact on a league assault that has witnessed his old team amass 63 points from a possible 71 across 27 games without defeat. “I still think it has been a magnificent season when you think of what Ange took over when he first came in,” he said. “Celtic need to make sure they don’t get too affected by Sunday’s result. They have already won the League Cup and are in a very strong position to go and wrap up the title and if they go and win the double then Ange would deserve massive credit. Yes, there is disappointment because there was a lot of treble talk. Over the piece, it really could have gone either way. Rangers made it happen in the second-half of extra-time but if Cameron Carter-Vickers had kept his shot on target [at 1-0 for Celtic] the tie would have been over. Rangers found that little bit of energy and I think there were a few calls that went in their favour too.”

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