For only the fourth time in the club’s history, Celtic completed the treble with a late, late win over Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park, a win which confirmed their unbeaten domestic season. The first time it has been achieved in the history of Scottish football.
In an engrossing 90 minutes Aberdeen took the lead in the ninth minute through Jonny Hayes before Stuart Armstrong levelled moments later. The game flowed back and forth with both goalkeepers in fine form. Aberdeen were hanging on at the end but it seemed that Celtic would have to wait at least 30 more minutes before making history.
Enter Tom Rogic. A wonderful solo run and goal handed Celtic the final piece of their famous season.
Having conceded six goals to Celtic in the opening 25 minutes of matches this season, Aberdeen knew that they couldn’t afford to concede an early goal. They started with a positive mindset and proactive game plan. Kenny McLean was pushed up to support Jayden Stockley with Ryan Jack back into the middle of midfield with Graeme Shinnie.
They turned their strong opening into a goal just short of the 10th minute mark. Stockely and Hayes worked a one-two down Aberdeen’s right-hand side to earn a corner. Niall McGinn swung the cross deep into the Celtic box where it was met by Hayes who had caught Griffiths ball-watching and met the ball on the half-volley, the pace making it nigh on impossible for Craig Gordon to keep it out.
The perfect start for the Dons. But the old adage goes, you are at your most vulnerable when you have just scored. Less than two minutes after Aberdeen’s celebrations had ended Celtic’s had started.
Celtic immediately went on the front foot getting possession deep in the Aberdeen half. They moved the ball around the centre, enticing Aberdeen’s midfield to press the ball which helped create space for Armstrong. The Dons defence backed off with Shay Logan reluctant to close down the Celtic midfielder who has netted from outside the box throughout the season. Armstrong zipped a left-footed effort into the bottom corner for his 17th of the season.
It would have expected to be the turning point in the afternoon, Celtic finding their rythm and dominating the encounter, but Aberdeen did not let them do so. They continued to press the Celtic midfield, forcing the defenders to send the ball long, similar to what McInnes’ men did to Hibs in the semi-final.
Controversy soon followed. In the 26th minute Kieran Tierney had to be replaced by Tom Rogic. It was several minutes after he had been felled by a Stockley elbow. The striker was being marked by the left-back and turned swiftly, catching the 20-year-old with his arm.
Celtic’s medical team tried in earnest to stop the bleeding but were unable to, Tierney leaving the pitch while pointing an accusatory finger at Stockley.
The incident added an extra element to the game, namely needle. And, if anything, it only effected Celtic further, missing the drive Tierney provided from deep with Callum McGregor slotting into the position.
By the 30 minute mark Craig Gordon was required to beat away two efforts in the matter of seconds. Aberdeen won the ball high before Niall McGinn followed by Jack had long-range efforts repelled by Scotland’s number one.
He was called into action a few minutes later when Stockley met a corner but could only direct the ball straight at Gordon who scrambled the ball to safety.
Celtic were frustrated and flustered. With Scott Brown tamed, Celtic lacked rhythm. Patrick Roberts was quiet, Scott Sinclair was dropping deep to get possession, while Griffiths was left to feed off scraps. The key man was Armstrong who was constantly trying to drive his team forward.
Armstrong won the free-kick which Griffiths curled over the bar before, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, the striker pulled wide and sent a delicious cross into the corridor of uncertainty, met by Sinclair in the six-yard box but the Englishman inexplicably sent it over the bar.
In many occasions half-time is not welcomed as it takes the pace and intensity out of games. This was not the case at Hampden. Within the first eight minutes of the second half both teams could have scored two.
Celtic counter-attakced Aberdeen through the speedy Sinclair, the forward slipping the ball through to Griffiths who had done his trademark and pulled away from the Aberdeen defence. Turning on to his left-foot, Griffiths’ effort was deflected narrowly wide. Two minutes later it was Sinclair’s turn to be fed, Rogic plyaing a cute pass behind the Dons defence to meet the wide-man’s run. Joe Lewis was out quick to thwart the threat.
Betweeb those two Celtic chances Kenny McLean sent an inswinging cross agonisingly past the far post before a glorious chance for Aberdeen to retake the lead in the 53rd minute.
Brown had put McGregor in danger with a pass out to the left. Hayes read the situation, picking the pocket of the make-shift left-back and haring towards goal. He opted to play in McLean but the midfielder had made his run too early and ended up falling over the ball with the goal at his mercy.
Roberts came into the encounter in fine form and had been linked with a move to the Bundesliga, potentially setting the afternoon up to be his. Yet, for the first hour he had been on the periphery of the game. However, he is a player who produces moments. He almost did just that past the hour mark.
Getting the ball outside the box, Roberts twisted left and right, tying Mark Reynolds in knots. He worked the ball on to his favoured left before sending a curling effort goalwards only to be denied by a brilliant Lewis save, tipping the ball on to the post.
This was a tremendous Scottish Cup final. Still 1-1, but could easily have been 4-4 as the game entered the last 20 minutes.
Somehow the score was still level when Dedryck Boyata met a corner right in front of goal but thundered a header over. Aberdeen responded with a Shinnie effort from long-range which was pushed away by Gordon.
Even with Adam Rooney on in place of Stockley, the Dons were retreating towards their goal having exerted so much energy higher up the pitch. Griffiths had an effort saved by Lewis, and Lewis was again called into action when Sinclair snuck in at the back post to meet a cross from the striker but could only manage a poor connection.
Lewis was inspired and didn’t look like being beaten again. But then again it is this Celtic side. Even when they’ve struggled they’ve found a way to win. And they did just that as the game headed into extra-time.
Rogic had been probing since coming on in the first half to no avail. Then, deep into stoppage time, he picked up the ball, skipped past Anthony O’Connor then Considine’s weak challenge before slotting past Lewis.
Celtic’s treble was confirmed and history makers ensured.