A shiver was entitled to run down the spine of Patrick Roberts the moment last month that Alfredo Morelos became guilty of the most shocking miss in recent times in skirmishes between the Glasgow leviathans. Instead, the nature of the footballing rivalry meant the on-loan Celtic winger’s reaction was more akin to a wry smile.
The howler committed by Rangers’ Colombian striker in striking only the upright when given the glorious opportunity to knock in a last-gasp equaliser from point-blank range has already entered the hall of infamy for such blunders across the annals of the fixture. It has gone down as the most hapless such hit, indeed, since Roberts thumped the ball wide of an open goal when his team lost out on penalties in the 2016 Scottish Cup semi-final.
The fact the teams meet at the same stage of the competition again this afternoon means memories of the error that scarred the early months of Roberts’ time on loan from Manchester City are inevitably stirred. As was true when Morelos had his buttock-clenching moment that denied the Ibrox men a draw against opponents reduced to ten men five weeks ago.
However, Roberts baulks at the notion that a turn of events that ensured Celtic racked up yet another victory against bitter rivals they are unbeaten against in nine outings might elicit a range of emotions from him. It certainly didn’t elicit any sympathy from him for Morelos’ plight. “No. I can relate to it, but no sympathy,” he said. “We’re going there to win, as Rangers were in the semi-final against us, so they’ll be delighted I missed. It happens. It happens to everyone, you’ve got to take it the way football is. You get on with it, learn from it and get better.”
Roberts considers the semi-final miss as the only low of his two-and-a-bit years at the club apart from injuries – the Englishman making his first start since November against Hamilton last week following a hamstring tear. He wearies of picking apart his failure to hit the target when a Leigh Griffiths strike rebounded from the post straight into his path at the edge of the box. He seemed then to find himself with ample time and space to make it 1-1 in an encounter that ended 2-2 after 120 minutes. Too much time, perhaps, which would be Roberts’ attitude to the constant reminders of what befell him that day.
“Still talking about that two years on? Yeah possibly [I had too much time] but next time it will be in the net, I’ve said that before,”
Morelos will be bursting to atone for the aberration as Roberts doesn’t deny his miss fired him up as he was continually forced to confront what had occurred.
“You want to make amends but you can try too hard and it can go the other way,” he said. “You just have to be mentally focused and concentrated on the game. I couldn’t get away from it.
“You try to forget about it. It’s hard because people still remember it now, but I don’t really care about it now. It’s in the past and you have to move on and look forward. It can be quite daunting, it’s a massive game and a huge moment at the time. If we went on to win, it might have been different, but we went on to lose.”
Roberts hasn’t known losing to Rangers in the six appearances he has made against them since that bitter experience of 17 April, 2016. Triumphing in the fixture is not something that could ever lose its lustre for a Londoner who had personal as well as professional drivers for coming to Celtic.
“You can never get tired of winning,” said Roberts. “You have to just keep playing your game and keep trying to win and give options to score and keep a clean sheet. As long as we do that, we’ll keep winning.
“It’s how we keep mentally strong and focused and have the will-to-win, no matter who we play.”
That will-to-win means Celtic would essentially only be one game away from back-to-back trebles were they to inflict more misery on the Ibrox side at Hampden this afternoon. Roberts now feels in perfect shape to end the season with a flourish. What will happen when his loan period then ends is an unknown, but it seems a stretch to believe that Celtic would fork out the £6 million it is believed that City would want to part with the player permanently.
“I’m just focused on finishing the last few games of the season on a high, like I did last season, and getting the trophies we’re aiming for,” he said.
“I’ll go on holiday and we’ll see where it takes me from there, start the season fresh again and hopefully injury free. I just look ahead to the games that are coming and crack on from there.
“Getting back has been a long time coming. I’d had a few games off the bench to help my match fitness but it was important to get a start at Hamilton last week so I can kick on from there.
“From that game on I’ve felt 100 per cent fit again. I managed 85 minutes, which was the first time I’d done over half a game since October, so it’s good to get that many minutes in and now I feel ready for the run-in.”