The fact that Celtic face the possibility of being without Moussa Dembele for next Tuesday’s vitally important Champions League encounter at home to Anderlecht meant the club’s assistant manager Chris Davies yesterday offered up an alternative narrative for Sunday’s Betfred Cup final.
The entire contest between two clubs, who will meet again at Fir Park tonight and then Celtic Park on Saturday, has been distilled down to one incident – the 59th-minute penalty award that followed Scott Sinclair hitting the deck after being grazed from behind by the arm of Motherwell defender Cedric Kipre.
The contact resulted in the Frenchman being red-carded by referee Craig Thomson before Dembele converted to make it 2-0. In doing so he put the tie beyond a Motherwell side who have subsequently been portrayed as being the victims of an injustice.
Davies, pictured, immensely proud of how Brendan Rodgers’ men claimed a fourth straight trophy win inside 12 months, would suggest otherwise.
The furore about Sinclair diving was, he claimed, a “non-story” with the penalty “deserved” and the dismissal a case of Thomson simply then applying “the laws of the game”.
He believes the obsession with the spot-kick is obscuring the final’s genuine complexion-alerting injustice: the failure of Cipre to be sent off in the early minutes after going in late on Dembele and stabbing his studs into the striker’s ankle. No action was taken for the offence which Davies said “absolutely” could have been a career-wrecker.
“The more you watch it back, the worse it gets. It’s one of those ones,” the Celtic No 2 said. “Thankfully, he’s physically quite robust. With a bit of luck he’s avoided that situation [of a major injury]. Hopefully it’s not too long.
“It was a very poorly timed tackle so he’s looking like he’s unavailable now for Wednesday. He’s had a bad twist to the ankle and the contact as well. It’s early stages with the swelling. We’ll need to wait for that to go down. After 72 hours you can start to get a clearer picture on a twist.
“Obviously there is a link in that it was the same player who was involved [in the penalty]. From our perspective, full credit to Motherwell for getting to the final. What I’m saying is that this incident shouldn’t overshadow how dominant we were and how much we deserved to win.
“If anything, there’s a debate whether that player should even have been on the pitch at that point, which completely turns the tables.”
Davies is dismissive over any attempt to turn Sinclair into a sinister exponent of simulation on the back of the penalty he earned in the final.
“It’s not Scott’s fault that the guy has made that action. It’s not Scott’s fault that the ref has sent him off. These are the laws of the game,” he said. “He was pulled down. He went down. It’s not a genuine attempt to play the football. It’s a red card. I thought it was a very good decision. Scott’s very mentally strong. He’s a focused guy and these types of situations won’t affect him.
“You’ve got to look at the context of everything. Scott’s been up here now 16 months and is a player who isn’t known for these types of incidents. And to make it clear to me, to us, it was a penalty. The manager has known Scott since he was 16 years old. It’s a long time. And the manager has said himself the whole time he has known him, Scott would never turn down the opportunity to score. He knows he’s not on penalties, Moussa’s on penalties when he’s on the pitch. So Scott knew he wasn’t going to get the penalty. In training, he’s hungry for goals. That’s why he’s got an incredible return as a winger. He’s a goalscorer.
“He gets in there to score. We’ve worked with him in England and up here. It’s not something that he’s known for. I’m not worried about referees taking this view of Scott. He’s a very honest and hard-working player. A great role model for young players.”
Rodgers, Davies and the Celtic coaching team and squad do not harbour any grudges that might spill over into this baseball-like fixture scheduling for their club against Motherwell; rather they constantly strive to be better as tonight they seek a 66th domestic game without defeat.
“That is our normal culture; whether it’s a cup final or a pre-season friendly, we’re always looking for improvement, development of players and the team,” added Davies. “So we can be better for the next game, and the next game happens to be against the same team. It’s a unique situation, playing the same team three times in quick succession. It will be intriguing to see how the week evolves and how they and we strategically approach it because both teams play different systems, and have the option to do that as well.
“We’ll be looking to prepare for each game slightly differently, even though it’s the same opponent. That’ll be our approach to it.”