Celtic will face Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final next month. Either Aberdeen will win the cup for the first time in 27 years, against the same opposition from their last victory, or we’ll clinch the treble.
But that’s a month from now and before that we’ve the post-split league fixtures to get through. First up, it’s the same opposition we’ve just beaten to reach that Scottish Cup final.
Sunday’s semi final was almost too easy. I wanted the Celtic players to turn up and play like we knew they could, and for the most part they did. Moussa Dembele was ragdolling their entire defence before he had to go off injured. Scott Brown was running the midfield with Stuart Armstrong and Calum McGregor both playing their part in that too. Patrick Roberts was so good the only way they could handle him was to boot him up in the air.
Which feeds the other part of what I wanted – we made sure the referee didn’t matter. Some have suggested Willie Collum had a good game, yet he failed to give two clear as day red cards to Andy Halliday and Myles Beerman – and I mean straight reds. Many suggested Beerman should have got a second yellow soon after his first, but I’d suggest his two footed challenge was possibly worse than Halliday’s.
But apparently giving us a stonewall penalty that only James Tavernier and his friends at the Daily Record thought wasn’t, and not bowing to Kenny Miller’s request for a hand ball when it hit Jozo Simunovic on the arm that was holding him up was sufficient to warrant a “good game” comment. Says it all for the standard of our referees, doesn’t it?
So what can we expect for our trip to Ibrox? Will we have the same intensity in a game that only counts towards our unbeaten record? Well I don’t fancy losing that to them, and I’d hope the team think likewise. Besides, I have a history of getting very angry if a Celtic team turns up at Ibrox and doesn’t give 100%.
Scott Sinclair went on record after Sunday’s game to say he thought it was perhaps one of our best performances of the season. I’m not so sure though. Only being a goal up at half time was slightly disappointing given our domination, but then for all our dominance did we really trouble Foderingham all that much? I thought he had more to do in the second half! Of more concern for me would be the slackness that crept in for that second half as we conceded easy possession far too often, and certainly Brendan Rodgers said in his recent press conference that we can play better so I’d assume he’s seen that too.
But then part of that may well have been down to the changes that Pedro Caixinha made. Rodgers also suggested they could play better and maybe their second half display showed that. After taking off the clogger that is Halliday and the hide and seek champions that is Joe Garner, they looked a lot better with Barry McKay and Joe Dodoo on the park. Dodoo certainly gave Craig Gordon a TV save to make at the end.
I really didn’t understand what Caixinha was trying to achieve with his starting line-up. I highlighted the link up between Toral and Hyndman in my blog last week, and yet Toral was dropped to the bench and Hyndman was forced to play wide in a midfield three. It made him pretty ineffective, and coupled with Martyn Waghorn showing himself to be every bit the Scottish Championship quality we all suspected he was and Miller failing to hit the target with almost every chance that came his way, we had it far easier than even I would have expected.
So will Caixinha learn from his mistakes? Will Toral and Hyndman start? Will he use the more effective 4-4-2 from Sunday rather than the completely ineffective 4-3-3 that he started with?
Possibly. But if he does, will that just play into our hands? In the first half they sat back and tried to soak up our pressure, a plan that fell apart when they didn’t track the run of McGregor for the first goal. But when they changed things up for the second half, it didn’t take too long for Roberts and Griffiths to break up the park and cause so many problems that Tavernier gave away a stonewall penalty. As I said, I reckon we trouble Foderingham more in that half despite being less dominant.
Griffiths and Roberts both got saves out of Foderingham. Griffiths made a mess of a 3-on-2, and Rogic hit the post all before the end of the game. You’d have to think if Caixinha went for the more attacking option then we’d have the same kind of freedom once again.
But I’m not sure Caixinha has much choice. Surely they can’t sit back at home and let Celtic dominate them? The natives are already restless, I can’t imagine them being too happy if they see that again in their own stadium.
Nor can they afford to drop points. Aberdeen are currently nine points ahead of them with a far superior goal difference and just five games to go. Simply put, if Celtic beat them at lunch time tomorrow and Aberdeen go on to beat St Johnstone at Pittodrie at 3pm then Aberdeen will have effectively clinched second spot and their season is over.
This blog might be a bit heavy on chatting about our opposition, but what more is there to say about Celtic? Our only debate at this point in the season is whether or not the unbeaten record matters to us. Personally, I don’t mind. If that record goes, then it goes. I just want us to be keeping momentum going into the Scottish Cup final.
But as I said already, if that record is going to go then I don’t want it to go against them.
We have bigger considerations though. With Dembele out injured, Griffiths is our only recognised striker unless you dig into the development squads and pull out a Jack Aitchison. We’ve played and beaten Aberdeen at Celtic Park without a recognised striker already this season, but it was far closer than we would have liked. Then again, Griffiths needs a run now to be confident and ready, so we need to balance that factor too. Tom Rogic is probably in that same boat.
And there’s still that nagging feeling that we need our players rested and ready for the Champions League qualifiers that come around far too soon.
I suspect we’ll see rotation of the squad soon, but somehow I doubt it will be in this game. Certainly thanks to the successful appeal of Scott Brown’s red card from the Ross County game his suspension for yellow cards has shifted to the two games after this. He’ll be a loss at home against St Johnstone, but perhaps of most concern will be him missing the visit to Pittodrie.
But we’ll come back to those games in due course. First we have the angry, paranoid mob to silence once again. With a Glasgow Cup final win, a Scottish Cup semi final win, and a Scottish Youth Cup final win all in the last week and a half, maybe our biggest problem will be having to keep them if we beat them again.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)