Aberdeen 0, Celtic 0

(Aberdeen won 9-8 on penalties after extra time)

A COUPLE of weeks ago a growing number of Celtic's supporters were

beginning to suggest that defeat in the Scottish Cup final would be the

best thing in the long term for their beloved club. Perhaps then the

leaders within Celtic Park would take more positive action.

However, opinions of the directors were being altered after the

boardroom doors had opened to admit Brian Dempsey and Michael Kelly, and

by the time everyone reached the gates of Hampden on Saturday, faith had

been partially restored, but enough, none the less, to make it possible

to provide the team with a raucous and passionate support. Celtic's fans

still do it better than any others.

They had commandeered most of the old stadium's slopes and formed a

sea of varying degrees of green which seemed to be pushing against

Aberdeen's fans, who occupied the traditional Rangers end. When they

emerged from the tunnel Celtic must have drawn strength from the sight.

Perhaps the Glasgow club, who plan sweeping changes which will revamp,

maybe even renew, their stadium and the side, again will give these fans

a winning team. When that day comes the people's club will be a

formidable establishment.

Unfortunately for everyone connected with the side and those who have

the health of the Scottish game at heart -- both parts of the Old Firm

have to be strong -- Celtic are a long way and many millions of pounds

from finding the formula for success. They are beginning to lag in terms

of playing standards and facilities.

People may say that against Aberdeen, recognised in many quarters as

the best team in the premier division, they never looked like being

overrun, but a few reasons can be put forward to explain this. There

seems to be some kind of mysterious affinity between Hampden and Celtic

and it is also fair to suggest that with a place in Europe hanging in

the balance there was much more at stake for them.

But the most significant cause of Celtic's stubbornness, their

admirable refusal to let Aberdeen run away with the prize, was, of

course, the backing of their fans. Adversity seems to bring out the best

in them, the way it used to do with the team.

Aberdeen's followers were a dismal and muted contrast. The people from

the north-east still don't know how to support the colours. Indeed,

throughout the first 90 minutes of play it was as though they were

waiting for something to happen. One of these days they might learn that

the passion of the committed can make things happen. Players nearing the

point of exhaustion can be given fresh life when a wall of fervour

tumbles down from the terracings.

After only 20 minutes of the first half it was feared oxygen masks

would be required to restore the players, who had been scurrying around

the wide pitch at an absurd pace. However, Aberdeen settled first and

were the more dominant side towards the interval.

The second half, with Celtic looking more comfortable with their

routine back four instead of the three defenders they had used early on,

slipped into mediocrity and it was much the same throughout the overtime

period. If anything, Celtic might just have had an edge after half time,

but they did not look like scoring.

Joe Miller was their best front player, although I felt his

man-of-the-match award should have gone to a defensive team-mate, Paul

Elliott, but the little fellow did not have too much support from the

others. In particular, Dariusz Dziekanowski had a poor final and did

nothing to dispel the suspicion that he is not good enough to lead

Celtic back to health.

Strikers must be show-offs, its part of their game, and they have to

be greedy, too. However, the Pole tends to hold on to the ball too long

and if he is not dispossessed and manages to release a pass it is

usually too late.

Frequently players surge forward into spaces, but often the ball

doesn't arrive and they trudge back, heads bowed in dejection. He

continues flattering to deceive. He is a luxury the team can't afford.

Peter Grant does not have Dziekanowski's feel for the ball, but he is

a tireless worker and was able to walk away from Hampden feeling he had

given everything. Anton Rogan, who played because Chris Morris had not

recovered from injury, also should have been able to do that, but his

crucial penalty miss in the shoot-out reduced him to tears.

Dariusz Wdowczyk had missed Celtic's first penalty, but that was

cancelled out when Brian Grant, who looked the best player in the first

half, missed his kick. His lapse made it 3-3 and no-one else missed

until Rogan stepped forward with the penalty score running at 8-8.

Theo Snelders, diving to his left, turned the ball away, Brian Irvine

made it 9-8, and the Dons had won the cup.

Alex McLeish, who thought Celtic were the better side, walked around

the centre circle offering his sympathy to the Celtic players, several

of whom had collapsed under the weight of their despair. None was more

distraught than Rogan. He was heart-broken and wept openly.

Billy McNeill later said his team had not deserved defeat and he was

probably right, but it is now up to him and the directors to spend money

on new players if they want to avoid a similar fate next season. It is a

formidable challenge and they must not fail for the sake of the

thousands who had come hoping to celebrate a much-needed triumph but who

left with heavy hearts.

Only two players were booked in the final -- and there are no prizes

for guessing the first. Elliott had his name taken for hauling back Hans

Gillhaus, and Mike Galloway, who was sent on to take over from Billy

Stark at the start of extra time, was cautioned for a wild tackle on

David Robertson.

In fact, Galloway was extremely fortunate not to have been sent off.

Perhaps if he had foreseen the misery which awaited Celtic he would have

pleaded for a red card.

In the end, Celtic, who have been stagnating rather than moving with

the flow of football in the modern world, were made to pay the ultimate


ABERDEEN -- Snelders, McKimmie, Robertson, Grant, McLeish,

Irvine, Nicholas, Bett, Mason, Connor, Gillhaus. Substitutes -- Watson,


CELTIC -- Bonner, Wdowczyk, Rogan, Grant, Elliott, Whyte, Stark,

McStay, Dziekanowski, Walker, Miller. Substitutes -- Galloway, Coyne.

Referee -- G Smith (Edinburgh).