Aidan Smith: A right royal rumble but Motherwell not invited
The Markles weren’t interlopers yesterday – they were able to present gilt-embossed invites to the biggest day in their family’s history, ever – and it was the same with Motherwell.
But there was potential for something untoward happening at both grand occasions. And if you weren’t a Royalist or a Treblist – someone who actively supports the idea of the same team winning all three domestic prizes – then the day held out the promise of some fun and maybe thrills, too.
Celtic, though, knew the form. What to say and where to stand, and in their case they sincerely believed that was at the top of the steps when the Scottish Cup was awarded, having first wiped muddy hands on the velvet drapes.
Would Motherwell be daunted? It didn’t seem that way. Just as the Markles wanted to bowl right into St George’s Chapel with a refreshing lack of convention and stuffiness and start hugging everyone, so Cedric Kipre was determined to get touchy-feely in his own special way.
Within mere seconds he’d clashed with Callum McGregor, the midfielder left face down on the turf. The Celtic fans jeered and whistled. Top-hatted toffs would react like that if in the wedding procession someone wasn’t the requisite number of steps behind the person in front or during the meal they’d picked up the wrong fork.
There was an American influence around Hampden, too. Michael Buffer, a rabble-rouser for boxing and wrestling bouts in the US, had been handed the microphone for the team announcements. The Steelmen, not much bothered by what anyone says about their muscular style, would have taken that as a compliment.
Celtic were well used to swanky affairs like cup finals with their ancient customs and beforehand everyone was saying that their biggest enemy would be complacency, a sense of entitlement, an over-reliance on their own privilege. But Curtis Main desperately wanted to be the biggest enemy. The Steelmen’s bullet-headed striker bumped and barged Kris Ajer impressively, winning a ball which should never have been his, but Liam Grimshaw got too excited and overhit his lay-off to the lurking Ryan Bowman.
If a Treble is a notable event, then a double Treble was going to be a right Royal Wedding of team married to trophies. Celtic would perch on that throne and look like they were never going to be barged off it. Not everyone wanted to see that. Nothing against Celtic; this was simply being anti-Treblist. Therefore many in the crowd, behind the barriers and watching at home on TV, were rooting for Motherwell and must have loved it when Allan Campbell stole the ball from the multi-garlanded Scott Brown. A collectors’ item, that.
It was a vibrant start by Motherwell but that was all it was. Charles Dunne had to be alert to cut off a dash by James Forest and he probably thought he’d made a fine headed clearance from the same player moments later. But McGregor latched on to the ball and cracked home the opener.
Brown didn’t look like he wanted any more mild embarrassments on his team’s potentially epic day and he was soon conducting the tempo of this game.
Bowman failing to give chase when the Celtic skipper surged forward suggested Motherwell might have been losing heart.
They were soon losing a second goal, and the accuracy of Olivier Ntcham’s finish was in marked contrast to Main’s effort minutes later, the Fir Parkers’ only other serious opportunity of the half. There was a neat backheel from one of Bowman’s pistacchio boots to set up his fellow frontman but the finish was too high.
Motherwell began the second half purposefully but then they’d done that in the first half. Main created some wriggle-room in the box, Craig Gordon thrusting up an arm to save, and then Campbell shot straight at the keeper.
Forrest, Moussa Dembele and Tom Rogic could all have increased Celtic’s lead before the final hit a flat patch. The equivalent juncture at a wedding – even a very posh one like the nuptials of Prince Harry, the new Earl of Dumbarton – would be reinvigorated by a cheesy disco. Motherwell’s response was to send on Gael Bigirimana and he definitely perked up their flagging midfield. He even came closest to scoring for the Lanarkshire team after Dedryck Boyata had dragged back Chris Cadden. Bigirimana’s free-kick had Gordon beaten but cannoned off the junction of post and bar.
Motherwell’s response had been spirited but they couldn’t alter the order of ceremony. The day belonged to the double-up triple-whammy history-makers and it would be fitting if Lord Boghead’s first act after getting hitched had been to sit back with a beer and savour this fine achievement.