Amid the series of impressive numbers Brendan Rodgers has racked up as Celtic manager, perhaps none have been as transformative as their perfect record at Hampden under his guidance.
Before Rodgers’ arrival two years ago, the National Stadium had been something of a house of pain for Celtic. Defeats in semi-finals and finals to Ross County, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, St Mirren and Kilmarnock were among eight defeats suffered in 16 visits to Hampden prior to his appointment.
The last of those setbacks was the loss on penalties to Rangers in the 2016 Scottish Cup semi-final, an outcome which provoked the Celtic board’s ambitious pursuit of Rodgers to replace Ronny Deila.
Since then, the journey to Mount Florida has become one Celtic supporters can make in confident anticipation of a enjoyable day out. So far, Rodgers has overseen six wins out of six at Hampden, including two over Rangers.
The Scottish champions are odds-on favourites to triumph again tomorrow as they look to overcome their Old Firm rivals once more to reach a fourth consecutive domestic cup final under Rodgers.
“When I came in here, Hampden was the place that everyone at Celtic didn’t seem to like,” says Rodgers. “So, very quickly we said to the players, ‘Listen, you’re going to have to like it if you want to win trophies’.
“All of our performances there have been very good, some better than others but, in the main, we have performed very well and for that you need to play the game and not the occasion. I think the thing with Hampden beforehand was a mental issue. Listen, you can lose games there. It can’t be just about that. I think Celtic supporters too didn’t see it as a place to enjoy. It is a mindset.
“It is about dealing with it from a mental perspective. If you are going to be successful and win trophies then you have to play well there. You can’t guarantee that you will win every one but you have to go with the mindset to win and not think about anything else. There are two goals and green grass – which is nice – and you’ll have half the stadium full of your great supporters. So enjoy it.”
If Celtic prevail tomorrow, it will extend Rodgers’ unbeaten run against Rangers to ten matches. The current sequence is the most dominant either side in the Old Firm rivalry has enjoyed since Walter Smith led Rangers to a nine-game undefeated sequence from September 1995 to January 1997.
“I never take much heed of records,” insists Rodgers. “You get a chance to create your own. It has been a sequence of, in the main, very good performances which have led to these results against Rangers.
“Arguably our two most disappointing performances against them were at Parkhead, the 0-0 draw this season in December and the 1-1 draw last March. But you have to leave that in the past.
“Before the last league game at Ibrox, which we won 3-2, every headline before it was that this was the big opportunity for Rangers but we’ve had that since a few games back. You can’t heed that. You know it’s going to be a tough game and all you can do is look to bring the best in your game. We have faith that, if we play as well as we can, we have a great chance of winning.”
History beckons for Rodgers and Celtic as they close in on the unprecedented feat of winning back-to-back domestic trebles. “It leaves you one step away if we win this game,” he added. “It gets us to the final and gives us that opportunity. We still have to close out the league, but we are in a brilliant position to do that.
“It’s been a challenging season, with so many injuries. But if there’s one thing about this team – outwith the free-flowing football and everything that came with it last year – they have still done what they have done with all the barriers put in their way.
“The players have already done last season what no other team in the history of Scottish football has done. No team has gone through a season without losing a game to win a treble. It was only the fourth treble in Celtic’s history, under three managers. So they are already there [in the history books].
“We will all be judged when we leave. In the present, you just have to keep on fighting and working to create this new history, keep looking to raise the bar and the standards. That’s all we think about.”