A Year To The Day – Brendan Rodgers’ Last Game In Charge Of Celtic

Like him or loathe him, Brendan Rodgers was an immensely successful Celtic manager. His time at the club saw an Invincible treble, double treble, treble treble and ten trophies in a row. Rodgers also qualified for the UEFA Champions League in back to back seasons, finishing third in the group in 2017/18, whilst he oversaw Celtic’s advancement from the Europa League group stages to the round of 32 in his final season at the helm.

The circumstances of his departure leave a very poor taste in the mouth of most Celtic fans, and it was on this day last year that Rodgers took charge of Celtic for the final time.

Rodgers and his team dismounted the bus at Celtic Park ahead of a league match against Motherwell, with nobody knowing it would be the last time we would see such a scene.

Celtic needed the win to ensure that they would restore an eight point advantage at the top of the league, as ‘Rangers’ thumped Hamilton 5-1 a day earlier. Scott Brown was suspended, allowing Ewan Henderson to make his full debut. Henderson put in a superb performance, which led to Kieran Tierney remarking “Wee Hendo’s class man,” in the post match interview. Tierney himself was new to the starting line up, having been out for a while with injury, much like Nir Bitton, who started for the first time in several months.

Celtic lined up as follows: Bain, Toljan, Boyata, Ajer, Tierney, Bitton, Henderson, Forrest, Christie, Sinclair, Edouard

Half an hour had passed when Tierney rolled the ball back for Christie to cross for Scott Sinclair to convert with a cushioned volley. Six minutes later Henderson’s exquisite ability was displayed as he hung a cross for Edouard to head home from eight yards.

The second half started cagily, but soon sprung into life with a hugely controversial incident in the 51st minute. With Celtic leading 2-0, Ryan Christie fell to the turf after pulling his hamstring. Kristoffer Ajer, pointing to his injured colleague, knocked the ball out of play for him to receive treatment. Motherwell’s Liam Grimshaw threw the ball back to Celtic, as is the norm in such a scenario, only for 18-year-old James Scott to latch on to the ball before it reached Kieran Tierney.

Most thought it was an act of youthful petulance, but with Celtic players motionless in expectation that the youngster would stop, and some of his team-mates appearing to shout for him to do so, the teenager charged forward and shot towards goal. Scott Bain parried the effort as far as Gboly Ariyibi, who tucked it into the empty net. The controversial goal was the first that Celtic had conceded in the calendar year, and the first in ten games from open play.

The helpless referee, Kevin Clancy, was forced to book Dedryck Boyata, Richard Tait and Alex Rodriguez-Gorin as tempers completely boiled over. In the midst of this, visiting keeper Mark Gillespie raced to the halfway line, to express his desire to allow Celtic to cancel out the goal. However, there was no attempt for such reparations and as a result Celtic’s composure completely deserted them for a 15-minute spell thereafter.

Centre halves, Kristoffer Ajer and Nir Bitton, seemed to have a running verbal feud with their opponents and the referee as the entire complexion of the afternoon changed from Celtic cruising, to Celtic edging the game. Thankfully, Odsonne Edouard scored a magnificent long range free-kick to regain the Bhoys’ two goal advantage on 88 minutes, before James Forrest set up loanee, Oliver Burke, to put the result beyond any doubt.

Against a Motherwell side on their longest winning run since 1933, with six straight Premiership victories, Ewan Henderson had been central to Celtic taking charge. Speaking to The Scotsman, of the player, Rodgers said: “He showed his poise and showed his control. He’s got physical development to come but he was a joy to watch, his touch and control of the game. His ball for the second goal was sensational and he played with real maturity so I’m delighted for him.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with the same newspaper, Kieran Tierney, discussed Motherwell’s goal. “The only time I’ve seen a goal like it was a clip on Facebook but they actually gave them a goal back because they didn’t mean it,” Tierney said. “It’s mental. We actually suggested Motherwell give us a goal back because everyone thought it would happen and you would think someone in their team would have said ‘fair enough, give them a goal’. There was a bit of confusion and the way we centred the ball we had walked into their half as if to say ‘we’re going to score here’ but they started pressing so we had to try and keep the ball again. That’s just football, it’s fair play. Everyone respects everyone on the pitch but in that situation there was no respect shown.”

Within days, Rodgers had gone and Neil Lennon took temporary charge for the midweek visit to Tynecastle. What a huge turnaround in players and management over the last 365 days!

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