Celtic made to fight hard for first silverware of the season
Brendan Rodgers retains his record of winning every possible Scottish competition
Celtic celebrate after winning the Betfred Cup final at Hampden Park. Photograph: PA
The seventh trophy of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic tenure felt like the most hard-fought. An under-par Celtic display, coupled with spirited resistance from Aberdeen, contributed to a tight League Cup final. Aberdeen emerge from this game with credit but Celtic demonstrated that valuable commodity of earning victory when not at peak level. A single-goal victory means Rodgers retains his record of winning every Scottish competition placed in front of him.
The first half was most notable for a sickening incident. Gary Mackay-Steven leapt to connect with a Shay Logan cross, but the Aberdeen winger was instead involved in a clash of heads with Dedryck Boyata. The reaction of other players illustrated what trouble Mackay-Steven was in; after six minutes of treatment he left the field on a stretcher. Boyata was able to play on, albeit with head heavily bandaged.
Aberdeen’s plan to sit deep and frustrate Celtic had largely worked during that opening period. Tom Rogic clipped an Aberdeen post with a 20-yard effort and James Forrest screwed wide but Celtic were pretty punchless. Not that Aberdeen offered much more in a taut first half, save a Dominic Ball effort which flew high over the crossbar.
Perhaps there was no surprise, then, that Celtic’s breakthrough arrived by virtue of going back to basics during lengthy stoppage time. Boyata lofted the ball from halfway towards Ryan Christie, whose run from midfield was not matched by Graeme Shinnie. Christie’s first shot was smartly saved by Joe Lewis but the Celtic player retained his footing sufficiently to scoop the rebound into Aberdeen’s net.
The second half was considerably more open. There was also controversy; that Celtic were awarded a penalty for an alleged Ball handling offence was wrong both because there was no such infringement and said incident occurred outside the penalty area. Lewis partly spared the blushes of Andrew Dallas, the referee, by batting Scott Sinclair’s spot-kick away.
Jozo Simunovic, in his first action after replacing the injured Boyata, shanked an attempted clearance against his own bar. Filip Benkovic and Sinclair came close to doubling Celtic’s lead. Aberdeen lacked nothing whatsoever in character but, not for the first time this season, hardly looked potent. Set-pieces appeared Aberdeen’s best hope of salvation; from one, Scott McKenna flicked a header narrowly wide.