It might already be too deep into this festive period – seems about three months it has been going already, frankly – to consider it, but Celtic ought to think about rushing out one of those modest tomes that are considered to make great stocking fillers.
The Little Book of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic Firsts would be the obvious title. The only problem would be that it couldn’t be so little. And the only stocking it would fit into would have to be of the surgical variety.
In the never-ending sequence of success that Rodgers is presiding over at the Glasgow club, yesterday’s Betfred Cup final triumph made him the club’s first manager to rack up seven straight domestic trophy wins. Jock Stein was thwarted by Aberdeen when he sought to assemble that total in 1970. However driven and valiant the efforts of Derek McInnes’ men proved in a compelling slow-burner of a contest at Hampden yesterday, there was never any serious prospect of them halting the Celtic silverware juggernaut.
We keep saying that Rodgers’ side cannot keep hoovering up every Scottish competition they contest. Yet there is no sign of their resolve to do so being weakened, or fatally challenged. Even when yesterday may have been another “first” in the sense of it turning out to be the first of five cup deciders in which they haven’t exerted real authority over their opposition. But that is a minor detail. There was only one moment that Rodgers looked like losing his grip on a domestic honour. It came in the literal sense, as he slipped when carrying the League Cup trophy down the Hampden steps following the presentation. It seemed that the top clanked to the ground, but the Celtic manager explained afterwards that this wasn’t quite the case.“It was the base – I wasn’t supposed to take it and I can see why!” he laughed. “I dropped it – sorry.”
Rodgers has fashioned a side that never look like dropping off when it comes to getting their hands on silverware. They are first among unequals. So much so that the prospects of becoming the first team to clinch a “treble treble”, on the back of being the first team to claim back-to-back trebles, are now very real.
The Irishman spoke of the footballing gods having looked down on Ryan Christie through allowing the midfielder to emboss his recent remarkable recasting as a precious commodity in the ranks of the champions with a winning cup final goal against the team that were so central to his remoulding.
The footballing gods seem to have been permanently anointing the work of Rodgers in Scotland. He now has every opportunity to go one better than Walter Smith did between 1992 and 1994 and become the first manager of a Scottish club to win eight consecutive honours.
He already stands as the first manager to have enjoyed a run of 69 domestic games without defeat – beating a 66-match total for such a sequence that stood for 100 years.
Moreover, in having yet to lose out in any competition he has contested within these borders, he long ago became the first manager to have pocketed every winner’s medal across his first two seasons in Scotland.
The feat achieved yesterday will last longer in the memory than so many elements of the encounter that brought it about.
The head injury sustained by Gary Mackay-Steven after colliding with Dedryck Boyata in the 41st minute resulted in an eerie quiet enveloping Hampden as the Aberdeen winger remained motionless after being knocked out cold.
Mercifully, following the worried looks sported by other players and medical staff, Mackay-Steven regained consciousness subsequent to being strapped in and wheeled up the tunnel on a stretcher.
That the fates could even play for Celtic in the aftermath of this incident was reflected in a patched up Boyata – who had stitches inserted into a head wound at the side of the pitch while Mackay-Steven was receiving attention – proving the man to deliver the through-ball from which Christie manufactured an implausible strike.
The fierce right-foot effort that Joe Lewis blocked seemed to leave him in too much of a stumble, and with too much of a stretch, to be able to make contact with the follow-up but somehow he did so to lash the ball left-footed high into the Aberdeen net. It was a moment of real quality in a final that, while infused with endeavour and application, had too many instances of the untidy, and a couple of the downright unsavoury.
An Aberdeen fan getting onto the pitch and actually breaking up play by getting in the way of the ball was one. Another came in stoppage time when Mikael Lustig, pictured left, taunted Lewis Ferguson with an up-close-and-personal celebration of the impending victory. It was tawdry, as was the Green Brigade section of the Celtic support situated behind the goal directing sectarian chants towards Derek McInnes as the Aberdeen manager received his loser’s medal. Both showed that, even in the ranks of winners, some can still contrive to betray a loser’s mentality.