Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Celtic's Hampden Problem

Sunday was hard to take. There's no getting away from that and I'm not here to defend Ronny Deila, or say he should be given a second chance. Unfortunately, I think this was a defeat too far for Ronny, mainly down to the identity of the club we lost to and he has now lost the fans. Short of winning the European Cup, I don't see how he can win us over again.

But Sunday needs to be looked at not simply as a defeat to a very mediocre side representing the re-animated body-parts of our dead, deadliest rivals. It needs to be seen in the context of our Hampden record going back to pre-Ronny times.

In April 2010, as the car crash Tony Mowbray Season of the Honest Mistake petered out, we faced then First Division Ross County in the Scottish Cup semi-final. It was a wretched performance under caretaker manager Neil Lennon as we crashed to a 0-2 defeat and an angry crowd awaited the team bus when it arrived back at Celtic Park later that day.

Let's look back to March and April of 2012, as we raced away from dead Rangers in the League race and appeared to be on the cusp of at least a double.

March 2012 we played Kilmarnock in the League Cup Final and suffered an unexpected 0-1 loss. The match was not without controversy, with Willie Collum refusing to give Celtic a penalty in stoppage time after Anthony Stokes was barged from behind in the box, but it was a poor performance, with plenty of chances missed.

The following month, we faced Hearts in the Scottish Cup semi-final and again lost out after a lacklustre performance. Again there was controversy with Euan Norris awarding Hearts a penalty in the closing minutes after a shot was smashed against Joe Ledley's arm, then turning down Celtic claims for a penalty moments later when the ball hit Webster's hand in similar circumstances.

On 27th January 2013, we took on St Mirren in the League Cup semi-final and contrived to lose 2-3, with Charlie Mulgrew both conceding and missing penalties. We were actually 1-3 down before Mulgrew scored in the 90th minute.

In April 2013, we faced Dundee Utd in the Scottish Cup semi-final and although we progressed to the final, it was a fraught affair, with the advantage swinging back and forth before we eventually triumphed 4-3 after extra time.

Season 2013-14 was mercifully free of any Hampden heartache, but only because we contrived to get knocked out of the League Cup in the early rounds at home to Morton, and in the Scottish Cup at home to Aberdeen. So that was nice.

Normal service was resumed last year, with that infamous 2-3 defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April 2015. Once again there was controversy, with ICT defender Josh Meekings keeping out Leigh Griffiths' header with a blatant handball seen by everyone inside Hampden except the referee and his five assistants. Worse was to follow in the second half when Craig Gordon was sent off after the officials decided to implement the rules for a change. Ten man Celtic then lost in extra time.

No one needs reminding that this season we have crashed in the semi-finals of both cup competitions to Ross County (again) and the Tribute Act.

Here is our Hampden record since Season 2009-10 (defeats in red):

2010 Scottish Cup semi-final, Celtic 0-2 Ross County*

2011 League Cup semi-final, Celtic 4-1 Aberdeen*

2011 League Cup Final, Celtic 1-2 Rangers

2011 Scottish Cup semi-final, Celtic 4-0 Aberdeen*

2011 Scottish Cup Final, Celtic 3-0 Motherwell

2012 League Cup semi-final, Celtic 3-1 Falkirk*

2012 League Cup Final, Celtic 0-1 Kilmarnock

2012 Scottish Cup semi-final, Celtic 1-2 Hearts*

2013 League Cup semi-final, Celtic 2-3 St Mirren*

2013 Scottish Cup semi-final, Celtic 4-3 Dundee United*

2013 Scottish Cup Final, Celtic 3-0 Hibernian

2015 League Cup semi-final, Celtic 2-0 “Rangers” *

2015 League Cup Final, Celtic 2-0 Dundee United

2015 Scottish Cup semi-final, Celtic 2-3 Inverness Caledonian Thistle*

2016 League Cup semi-final, Ross County 3-1 Celtic*

2016 Scottish Cup semi-final, Celtic 2-2 The Rangers (4-5 penalties)*

That's 16 matches at Hampden in seven seasons and we have lost half of them.
There have been more than a few where refereeing has played a huge part in those 8 defeats, but all 8 defeats have also been accompanied by poor performances.

These performances have spanned two managerial reigns and a huge turnover in playing staff. There is no one individual or group of individuals who can be singled out to blame.
I'm not one of those Celtic fans who think we should win the treble every season. It's an extremely difficult task and one we've achieved just 3 times since it became available 70 years ago.
Neither am I one of those Celtic fans who thinks we should always beat the "diddy teams." On any given match, we can lose to anyone. Losing a cup match is not, and never should be seen as, the end of the world.
But I do think that our win percentage at Hampden should be considerably better than 50%. Yes, we can always lose a one-off match, but over a series of one-off matches, we should not be losing anywhere near 50% given the financial advantage we have over our opponents.
We have a Hampden problem and it is not a problem simply of Ronny's making. I feared the worst before Sunday, because given our Hampden record since 2010, we can't be confident of beating anyone there. Too often, we freeze when it really matters.