Sunday, May 22, 2011

Scottish Cup: Celtic Take The Trophy

The curtain comes down on domestic football for another season.

Yesterday's Scottish Cup will not perhaps be long remembered as a classic. Celtic too often seemed unable to click through the gears, that lent long periods of the game a scrappiness that seemed to offer Motherwell their best hope.

A couple of memorable goals though. Ki Sung-Yeung's pearler opened the scoring and Charlie Mulgrew's third was a fine, fine free kick. By that stage the game was over, Mark Wilson's deflected second all but killing off Motherwell's resistance.

For their part Motherwell almost scored one of the all time great Scottish Cup final goals. Almost. Gavin Gunning's shot all but breaking the crossbar but bouncing out to safety.

The reality though was that Gunning's shot was Motherwell's most potent attacking threat on a day when their forwards never got going. A 25 yard effort from a full back is not the sign of a team able to offer a sustained assault on the opposition goal.

Given some of the stories of the season it was probably predictable that referee Calum Murray would have a big role to play. And controversial that role proved.

Daniel Majstorovic and Keith Lasley were both booked early on. If those cards looked fair enough there was perhaps more doubt about the yellows handed out for Ki and Brown seemed a bit more harsh.

There was no doubt, however, about Majstorovic's deliberate handball when the defender seemed to lose the flight of the ball, the position of the nearest Motherwell player and himself all ends up. That should have resulted in a yellow card and a red.

Murray let it go with a warning. Minutes later a similarly exposed Stephen Craigan punched the ball away as he lay on the ground. The referee might not have seen that as a professional foul and a red. But it had, at the very least, to be yellow. Murray somewhat oddly seemed to see it differently.

Not a good day at the office for Mr Murray.

A shame that the romance of the cup should be spoiled by talk of the referee. But there it is.

And one man's romance is another man's slide towards divorce. So while Motherwell were left with broken hearts, Celtic were free to celebrate.

As a neutral observer Motherwell actually offered the more romantic story. Much was made of Celtic's two years without a trophy. Motherwell have gone twenty years without a trophy. That's a drought.

But there was more significance to Celtic's win than just a trophy.

You can like Neil Lennon or you can dislike him. As a football fan that's your right. You can simply find the Celtic manager to be not your cup of tea. That's fair enough.

What's not fair enough is the hate campaign that some lunatics have waged against him this year.

And so, big softie that I am, I did find something heartening about the sight of him with the trophy. And that's from someone who is as bored to back the teeth of Glasgow's big two winning trophies as anyone.

It just struck me as a heartening victory for both his resilience and for the resilience of football.

The BBC made much of Dermot Desmond's pre-match confirmation that Lennon would be staying as Celtic boss.

Personally I don't think there was much doubt about that. Not even the board of a football club could have looked at the scenes at Celtic Park last weekend and decided that they could risk breaking that bond between manager and fans.

Challenges remain. More than anyone else Lennon would have seen yesterday as no more than a consolation, the trophy he most wants having slipped from his grasp.

That's the target for next season. It's one he will relish. And one he should be allowed to strive for in atmosphere of sanity.

> A word for Dundee United. Celtic's win means fourth place in the SPL has been enough to take United back into Europe.

> Congratulations also to Ayr United who will take their place in the First Division after a 3-2 aggregate win over Brechin in the play off. Finely poised after a 1-1 draw in Ayr, Brechin took the lead just before half time today. Ayr stuck at it though and two goals in the last 13 minutes were enough.

> And final congratulations to Albion Rovers who clinched promotion to the Second Division. A 3-1 home win had set Rovers on their way and they increased that advantage in the first half against Annan today. Annan pulled back two second half goals but Rovers held on for the aggregate win.