When it comes to the Scottish Cup, Celtic are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of triumphs. Not only have the Glasgow club won the competition a record number of times (39) but their dominance is there for all to see – with three titles in as many years between 2016-17 and 2018-19. With last season’s final delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, they’re looking to make it a 40th Scottish Cup victory, and standing in their way is Heart of Midlothian. The Scottish FA Cup odds are firmly in the Bhoys’ favour, but have they got what it takes to further cement their place in the record books?
Celtic’s path to the final
Celtic’s road to Hampden Park began in the fourth round, with the defending champions travelling to Partick Thistle. Although Stuart Bannigan pulled a goal back for the hosts deep into stoppage time, from the penalty spot, the Bhoys ran out 2-1 winners, and were into the hat for the fifth round.
Another away trip followed, and a more dominant performance saw Celtic beat League One’s Clyde 3-0. Goals from Olivier Ntcham and Scott Brown gave Celtic a commanding half-time lead. Victory never looked in any doubt but Vakoun Bayo added a third late on, to book their place in the quarter-finals.
It was an ugly win, but nevertheless, precious, as a solitary goal separated Celtic from St Johnstone in Perthshire. Neil Lennon’s side had hammered the hosts, but were unable to make the breakthrough – until 10 minutes from time. A right-sided free-kick from Ryan Christie went straight in, beating Zander Clark between the sticks, and setting up a semi-final against Aberdeen.
The tournament was then postponed, and when it finally got restarted and Celtic went on to face Aberdeen at Hampden Park, they did so behind closed doors. No fans, no problem – as the Bhoys ran out 2-0 winners. Two goals in five first-half minutes secured it, with Christie opening the scoring, before a looping ball by Tom Rogic allowed Mohamed Elyounoussi to knock in, at the back post.
Elsewhere, it took extra time for Hearts to beat Hibernian, with a 111th minute penalty securing their fate, and setting up a repeat of last year’s final.
Celtic’s poor form
While the Bhoys may well be the favourites going into their cup final clash on December 20th, there’s no denying they’re in a run of poor form. Celtic went crashing out of the Europa League, with two games to spare, when they lost 4-1 to Sparta Prague on matchday four, and followed that up with a 4-2 loss at the hands of AC Milan. With just one point from five games, they sit bottom of Group H.
At the end of last month, they were stunned by Ross County in the Scottish League Cup – putting an end to their stranglehold of silverware, as well as their winning run of 35 cup games without defeat. In the aftermath, fans protested outside Celtic Park, asking for Lennon to be sacked, and the pressure is undoubtedly on the manager to turn around their fortunes.
Also in the league, Celtic’s dominance is waning. They may have two games in hand over bitter rivals Rangers, who sit top of the Scottish Premiership, but they’re 13 points behind – and have failed to win either of their last two matches. Just two points separate Celtic from Hibs in third, with Aberdeen a further point behind.
Victory in the Scottish Cup could well springboard their season back to life – but it’s that very title they’ll be pinning their hopes on this campaign too. Otherwise, it could be a trophy-less season for a club of massive stature and expectation.