By Red Fin Hall.
A visit to Hampden for Aberdeen’s second league cup final appearance in two years, after winning it in 2014 at Celtic Park.
The current holders, Ross County, have only held the trophy for 8 months, due to the changes to format the SPFL introduced.
Despite most people thinking Aberdeen would start with the same winning line up, with maybe Niall McGinn in for Jayden Stockley, the manager surprised us all yet again as he left both of the aforementioned players on the bench, and gave young James Maddison his first start against Celtic.
As the teams ran out onto the pitch to tumultuous applause, the players were greeted by a spectacular display from both sets of fans. The Celtic fans’ one was predominantly green and white cards with the number 100 in the middle representing the 100th trophy the hoped to win, whilst the Aberdeen display was made up of alternate red and silver foil flags, arranged as usual by Stephen ‘Mezzanine’.
Celtic kicked off and immediately started they way they meant to go on, by keeping possession and bossing the game. In 3 minutes they were awarded the first free kick of the game which Jack conceded.
Celtic continued having control of the game for the first 7 minutes, with James Forrest claiming a penalty when he slipped on the wet pitch as Shay Logan challenged and cleared the ball.
Moments later Aberdeen were awarded their first foul when, in a rare moment of having the ball, Kenny McLean was fouled, only to relinquish the ball straight away.
In the 8th minute Jonny Hayes broke down the right side and managed to win a throw in. A very poor ball thrown by Logan gave the Glasgow club the ball back.
Minute 11, a great ball through from the ever willing James Maddison was just too long for Adam Rooney.
In the twelfth minute a Joe Lewis pulled of the first save of the match in Celtic’s first attack. A mere minute later Maddison was fouled just outside the box, but the resultant free kick was totally wasted by Kenny McLean.
The Don’s were getting a wee bit more into the game when a Maddison shot was well blocked by the defence. Celtic went straight into attack mode, and, in the 16th minute, number 18, Tom Rogic scored after after working his way easily through the Aberdeen defence.
On 18 minutes, Maddison was brought down yet again, and his free kick made Craig Gordon pull off a decent save. Then, Anthony O’Connor was easily robbed of the ball, sending the Hoops off on another attack, which was cleared up by Ash Taylor.
With 20 minutes gone, Aberdeen were finding it hard to get any purchase of the game. Maddison was the victim of yet another two consecutive fouls, with Scott Brown being the perpetrator of the second one. Yet again this came to naught.
The first corner of the game came in the 27th minute of the game for Celtic, who are well in control. Hayes meanwhile is barely getting on the ball, and in the 31st minute he was heavily bagged in the back, but no booking was forthcoming. Celtic are fouling Aberdeen all over the pitch.
The Dons comfortably break up another attack, but Hayes’ effort was easily held by their keeper. Aberdeen were not utilising the wide open spaces of the National Stadium.
Forrest, at this juncture, found the Aberdeen midfield posted missing again as he ran past them all and put the all easily past Lewis for the second goal.
The Dons’ first corner of the match came to nothing, and when the ball found its way back to Taylor who proceeded to punt the ball forward into an empty space.
The Dons weren’t lying down though, and in the 41st minute a neat pass from Maddison found Rooney. But, summing up the way the game was going, he skyed the ball well over the bar.
The third corner of the game was awarded to Aberdeen. A decent ball in found Andrew Considine, but his header went straight into Gordon’s arms. Another free kick was given to the men in red, this time in the centre circle, was well worked into the danger area, but the defenders were it in the slightest troubled.
Bang on 45, the half time whistle blew, with the second best team in Scotland by far the second best team in the park.
Half time: 0-2
AFC returned to the pitch first after the break with no changes to the line up. Celtic followed, likewise unchanged.
The Dons kicked off attacking towards their own fans. Whatever the manager had said in the dressing room, seemed to have worked as they were looking a but more positive.
Barely two minutes had passed when when Scott Brown became the first player to be booked for a cynical foul on Maddison, who kept trying to create something. But the fact is, that playing both him and McLean in midfield wasn’t working.
The pattern continued when another free kick by the men from the North East, nearly fell to Rooney. Then Maddison was not in quick enough to collect a ball from the Irish international.
The second half was looking better and it appeared that Aberdeen finally wakened up to the fact that they were here for a reason. The Don’s had another corner given, but Maddison was carelessly caught offside.
Just as they were getting into the game, O’Connor conceded a penalty
With 57 minutes gone, Celtic had their first real attack of the half, but it petered out.
As the Dons pushed forward after a McLean free kick, an attempt from O’Connnor went right across the front of the goal. Another opportunity gone a-begging.
Although they were the better team overall, Celtic knew they had a game on now, and when a Celtic player handled the ball in the Aberdeen goal area, they were given yet another free kick.
Young Maddison was still involved in most things, and the team were making more use of the full pitch, but still not enough. The seemed reluctant to try and get down the wings and try and get beyond the Celtic defence.
Just as they were getting into the game, O’Connor conceded a penalty, by bringing down Forrest.
Moussa Dembélé stepped up to score their third goal, and his fourth of the competition, thus putting the cup well out of Aberdeen’s reach.
O’Connor was immediately substituted to be replace by Stockley. Celtic likewise decided to make a change too, with Patrick Roberts leaving the field, and Nir Bitton coming on. Stockley was keen to get involved in things straight away, and a pass to Rooney was received well, but the soft shot in from the latter went right into the Celtic keeper’s hands.
Celtic got a corner in the 66th minute.
Aberdeen attacked again, when great running by Hayes, a rare occurrence this afternoon, was spoilt as, under little or no pressure, he ran the ball hopelessly over the by-line.
Manager, Derek McInnes, showed we was not at all pleased by this error, as he decided to take Hayes off and put McGinn on.
A second yellow card was issued to a Celtic player for yet another foul on Maddison. The shocking free kick went straight to the keeper.
The Dons kept trying but to no avail. The fans kept getting behind the team and the singing continued. In saying that, the team leading the match weren’t resting on their laurels, and were keen to get goal number 4.
Two more substitutions were made. First in the 76th minute when Rogic was replaced by Calum McGregor, then in the 78th when Rooney came off and Wes Burns went on.
Another Aberdeen free kick was wasted, much to the frustration of the fans, as McGinn was offside when he received the ball
The action continued when in the 80th minute Celtic caused more problems for Aberdeen, but Taylor, who was having a decent game, put the ball out for a corner. Up at the other end of the park, a poor ball from Burns, meant for Stockley, was easily intercepted by Gordon.
On 90 minutes, man of the match, Forrest came off to great applause from the victorious supporters, and Leigh Griffiths entered the arena.
With only 3 minutes left, good play and a shot at goal by Maddison, but again, it was routine for the keeper to hold it.
Although 3 minutes stoppage time was awarded, nothing much happened within that time, as the Celtic fans celebrated noisily, and the Aberdeen fans were already making their way out of the stadium.
When the final whistle blew and the referee indicated that the game was officially over, although from an Aberdeen point of view it was well over about 35 minutes before that.
The dream of a second trophy in 3 seasons lay shattered and in shreds, much like the remnants of silver and red foil flags which lay on the steps and floor of Hampden Park.
They say ‘money can’t buy love’, but that was proven wrong today when money bought the love of the Celtic Fans – money that bought the players that other teams in Scotland cannot, even remotely, afford. This is proven as Celtic have now gone nine games since a team from Scotland has managed to score a goal against them.
Full time: 0-3
Footnote: The match finished at 16.48pm. Due to the ridiculous situation of The National Stadium, we didn’t manage to leave the vicinity of Glasgow until 18.50pm. Two hours. Ridiculous.