Tonight we man the “bearna boaghail” (my apologies to Irish readers for any bad spelling) which has been translated as “the hour of maximum danger” or “the danger gap”, I believe.
Make no mistake about this. We are in danger tonight. The two last games have been shockers, and the support is about two millimetres away from turning on Ange Postecoglou and his merry men whose fall from grace has been sudden and dramatic, albeit predictable.
It is possibly melodramatic to say that the season hinges on tonight. That would not be true. After all, we blew up at a similar stage in the same tournament against Morton in September 2013 and recovered to win the League in what was admittedly an undistinguished season against mediocre opposition, but let no-one be in any doubt about the implications of a slip-up tonight.
In the first place, there could be no treble, and we have rather got used to such things – or at least we did until the coronavirus came along. Secondly the cult of losing and failure would take over Parkhead, and this would inevitably impact on other tournaments. We are already up against it in Europe and the League. It is of course ridiculous to write us off in any competition as early as September, but the fact remains that we cannot really afford to lose many more League or European games. And of course tonight’s game, being a Cup tie, has a finality about it, if we lose. And of course, penalty shoot-outs and Celtic do not always go well together. Beware!
But the really important thing that a defeat tonight would bring about would be the alienation of the support. It was, you remember, that feckless display against Ross County in this same competition last season which upset everyone (although, to be fair, there had been a few inklings beforehand) and that was the point of no return with even a Scottish Cup success from the previous season not enough to steady the ship. Admittedly, last season was unnatural and unprecedented, but the danger sign is there. We must, at this stage, stay in everything.
This is emphatically NOT “just the League Cup” as some people refer to it. It probably lacks the dignity of its older brother the Scottish Cup, and is certainly a great deal younger. Performance wise, it is Celtic’s worst tournament, but we have nevertheless had some great moments in the battles for the beautiful three handled trophy, notably 5 in a row between 1965/66 and 1969/70, 4 in a row from 2016/2017 to 2019/2020 and, of course, a certain matter of a 7-1 score line in 1957.
The final this year will be held on 19 December. No-one is convinced that December with its bad weather, false jollification and all-enveloping darkness is the ideal time for a national Cup final, but on the other hand, would a victory not be a fine Christmas present? Would we not all be willing to give Santa Claus a holiday and possibly even stay off the drink for the New Year in exchange for Callum McGregor lifting up the League Cup?
But we anticipate. First things first. Raith Rovers are a more than competent Championship outfit who beat Morton on Saturday and knocked out Aberdeen in the last round, and they have some experienced players like Christophe Berra, Kyle Benedictus and several others who are good enough to spring a surprise. They also have a Manager with considerably more brain power than some others. Having watched them twice this season, I would class them as about the same standard as some team like…say…for example, Livingston. AARGH!
Finally, we have to consider the horrendous possibility of, supposing we don’t win the League Cup, who will? Raith Rovers? Unlikely. St Johnstone? Lightning doesn’t often strike three times in a row, and we were impressed by last year’s performances, but…. The winners of Dundee United and Hibs? Not impossible, but both would need an awful lot of rising to the occasion.
And we all know who that leaves, don’t we? Celtic had better win tonight!