The finesse of Tom Rogic to the fore as Celtic seal move to within Scottish Cup victory of quadruple treble
There might have been a part of Tom Rogic that surveyed the rain-lashed Hampden on which Celtc’s 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Aberdeen was played out, and wondered.
Wondered about the fact that he might, at that very time, have been soaking up 28 degree sunshine in Qatar.
Instead, it is the Parkhead club who may wonder just how pivotal the collapse of the Australian’s proposed summer move to the Middle East could prove to their prospects this season.
The schemer didn’t score as Celtic extended to 35 their astonishing UK record of consecutive cup-tie successes with a commanding victory. Instead, as he always does when fit and in sync, the 27-year-old underscored his team’s attacking flair that allowed them to end a four-game winless run.
Rogic was the funnel, and crucial source of finesse, as Celtic probed and pulled out of shape opponents that ultimately couldn’t handle their first-half intent.
His dexterity and technical prowess were central to the second goal for Neil Lennon’s men in the 22nd minute. There seemed no way he could deliver any sort of cross from the byline when forced practically to the line. Yet, with a swivel and a caress of the ball he stood up the perfect centre for Mohamed Elyounoussi to cushion-volley the ball in to the back post from a yard.
Celtic’s first, four minutes later, was all down to the majesty of Ryan Christie, who strode forward from the right, and curled a stonking effort in from fully 22 yards. Notably, though, it was Rogic who fed him after the pair worked space through a give-and-go.
It is no coincidence that Celtic have netted 22 goals across Rogic’s last six starts. His manager Neil Lennon acknowledges he gives the side another dimension, just as he acknowledges the need for delicate handling of a player with knee and ankle issues. However, there is no doubting that Rogic possesses endowments that are rivalled by few in the Scottish game.
A welcome clean sheet
There was oodles for Lennon to be pleased about in a win that leaves only Championship Hearts, in the delayed Scottish Cup final to be staged on December 20, standing between Celtic and a fantastical fourth straight treble.
The Scottish champions were commanding for the first hour before Aberdeen pushed them back as they tired following their exertions in the 2-2 draw at Lille on Thursday. The fact that Derek McInnes’ men could not find a way back in when they had that late spell will be as encouraging a takeaway for Lennon as any other aspect of the afternoon.
Essentially, Shane Duffy and Nir Bitton might be considered a second choice central defensive pairing in the injury absence of Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer. As Aberdeen stepped up their pressing, they proved stout – not a word that would necessarily be associated with the Republic of Ireland captain’s recent displays for his loan club.
The reward was a first clean sheet in five games, since the 2-0 win away to St Johnstone in mid-September that was followed by the personnel upheaval and result downturn that ensued from the Covid-19 related issues that reared during the last international break.
The return of the real Odsonne Edouard
It wasn’t just the very presence of Odsonne Edouard, in his first start since contracting Covid-19 a month ago, that gave Celtic a more familiarly fearsome look. It was the fact that the French forward looked much more like the unplayable performer of last year that was different. He wasn’t that even before his illness as the then still open transfer window led him to cut a distracted figure.
At Hampden his focus appeared to be back, along with the nimbleness and fluent link-up play with which he excels. He should have netted early on when through on Joe Lewis - the keeper denying him with a double save - but his performance suggested he is settled again in the knowledge that any desired move must be earned through his performances across these winter months.
Moreover, in the use of his squad, Lennon was able to give game time to practically all his key performers - aside from the injured James Forrest, Ajer and Jullien, of course. It is nigh-on two months since he had so many of his established performers at his disposal.
Right at home in Hampden
Celtic supporters’ infantile denigration of Brendan Rodgers does a true disservice to one of his most outstanding legacies. This latest cup success over Aberdeen represents the club’s 14th straight win at the national stadium. A stat - and yet another Scottish Cup record - that illustrates the impact of the now Leicester City manager in his two-and-a-half years in Glasgow. Simply because, prior to his arrival, Celtic had lost on six of their previous 10 visits there.
Lennon may have been in charge for the past five of these successes, but the template was set by his predecessor how impressed on the squad that the big wide expanses of the Hampden pitch should not hold any fears but be a domain in which an enterprising expansive team such as Celtic should revel in. They have certainly taken Rodgers’ instructions fully on board.
Celtic: Bain; Duffy, Bitton, Laxalt; Brown, McGregor; Christie (Elhamed 73), Rogic (Ntcham 84), Elyounoussi (Ajeti 73); Edouard (Griffiths 73). Subs: Barkas, Taylor, Klimala, Soro, Turnbull.
Aberdeen: Lewis; Taylor (Leigh 64); Hoban, Considine; Hedges, McCrorie, Wright, Ferguson, Kennedy (McGinn 85); Cosgrove (McLennan 64), Watkins (Main 79). Subs: Logan, Devlin, Ojo, Edmondson, Woods.
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