PRIDE, despair, respect, hope!
These are the four words that spring to mind when assessing the Scottish Cup Final that I witnessed my beloved Aberdeen lose at the very end to Celtic.
Pride would describe the performance. Aberdeen gave everything they had on Saturday, were the better side for at least 50 minutes that had us believing we would end a 27 year wait for the trophy.
Despair is self explanatory, it’s the moment when Tom Rogic waltzed through a weary Dons defence to slot home an 89th minute winner.
Respect summarises the fact that the Dons were up against a really good Celtic side, whose fitness and quality saw them seal victory that secured the treble in invincible fashion having gone through a whole domestic season undefeated.
Hope is what us Aberdeen fans have in coming back to Hampden and taking the Scottish Cup in the not too distant future, having been heartened by the teams display backed brilliantly by the Red Army who sang and roared their team on from start to finish. Even some 29 hours after the match ended, I still have a sore throat and I know I’m not the only Aberdeen fan still hoarse after a pulsating 90 minutes.
Going into the game, we knew we were massive underdogs against a side who’d beaten us five times out of five meetings throughout the season, including the League Cup Final when Aberdeen simply didn’t turn up. However, after a strong end to the season, which included back to back wins at Ibrox (yes, Ibrox for the first time in 26 years) and Firhill, plus a decent showing in the recent meeting with the Champions at Pittodrie (after not showing up in the first ten minutes), there was an air of optimism within the club and their fans that we could do what no Scottish club has done this season and defeat Brendan Rodgers men.
The pre-match atmosphere in The Shed in Shawlands, organised by the Glasgow Reds Supporters Club and led by Heart FM Dj and fellow Dandy Paul Harper, was brilliant and helped hype up a section of the Red Army for the big day, and the near 20,000 Dons contingent inside the National Stadium were certainly up for the challenge.
The big question was, after the disappointing League Cup Final showing, were the players ready to step up the big occasion?
Nine minutes into the game, the Dons went in front when Johnny Hayes volleyed home from a Niall McGinn corner. Wow, we’re 1-0 up! It was sheer bedlam in the West side of the stadium, we couldn’t believe that we had taken the lead!
The joy didn’t last long, two minutes to be exact as Stuart Armstrong struck home from the edge of the box to bring Celtic level. It was a blow, losing out lead so soon after going in front, this was a test of the teams character.
Backed by the fans, the team responded very well and every one of the players upped their game. They pressed Celtic, forced them to pass the ball back to Craig Gordon to kick long, won most headers and tackles and started creating chances, with Gordon stopping shots from McGinn and Jack then a header from Stockley. Aberdeen were the better side in the first half!
There was a heart in mouth moment at the end of the half when Sinclair blazed over from inside the six yard box. That aside, the Dons contingent had reason to be hopeful going into the second half given the way we played.
Aberdeen started the second half brightly and created two more chances to regain the lead. First, Kenny McLean’s tempting cross was missed by both Jayden Stockley and Andy Considine. Then there was THE chance to potentially win the Cup when Hayes robbed Callum McGregor and raced through on goal with McLean rushing to join him. Knowing his teammate was in the better position, Hayes rolled the ball across the face of goal, unfortunately the ball was behind McLean and the chance had gone!
We all said to each other that the chance would come back to haunt us, and so it proved!
Celtic upped their game, created chance after chance, a combination of Joe Lewis and some good defending keeping them at bay as we started to tire, and then the knockout blow with a minute to go as Rogic came up with the match winner. It was sickening after putting in so much effort into the game to lose a goal so late in the game.
Even then though, the Red Army rallied behind their team to roar them on for one last push and there was almost an injury time equaliser when Taylor’s knockdown was narrowly missed by Rooney. Any other match, we get that goal from that source but this was not to be out day.
When the final whistle went, there was a massive applause from the fans to a team who had given absolutely everything in the Final. There was not a single player who could be held accountable for having a bad game and could all hold their heads up high. Even Ash Taylor, often a bomb scare at the back, and Ryan Jack, who is leaving the club and is often a harsh scapegoat of certain sections of the Dons support, were outstanding in the game and were, arguably, Aberdeen’s best players on the day.
At the end of the day, our endeavour was not enough against a Celtic side destined to make history and full credit goes to them for achieving a treble without losing a single match. Say what you want about Scottish Football and the so called lack of quality, for a team to go an entire domestic season undefeated is an incredible achievement and Celtic fans will, rightly, savour that moment for years to come.
As for Aberdeen, well we can look back on a good season where we finished runners up in all competitions, like we did in 1992/93 to Rangers, and come away from Hampden with a different feeling of disappointment from the last Cup Final. On that occasion, it was anger
about the team not turning up, this time it was heartbreaking to lose having put so much effort into the game.
However, having now got back to a Scottish Cup Final for the first time in 17 years, the hunger is back to end a wait for the trophy that goes back to 1990 and belief has increased that we can end our wait in the not too distant future, and not wait as long as Hibs did.