FOR the second year in a row, Celtic claimed the League Cup, and for the second year in a row, it was Kyogo who was the star of the show.
The diminutive Japanese forward bagged his 23rd and 24th goals of the season at Hampden against Rangers on Sunday, leaving no doubt that he’s the deadliest striker in Scottish football.
But what of the performance? During the build-up, the media in Glasgow was in overdrive, spinning out waffle of how victory could spur the Ibrox side to go on and even win a treble this season.
My oh my, how they wanted Michael Beale to get one over on Ange Postecoglou. The Scottish Sun was even touting him as the one who could lead the Three Lions to World Cup glory. I kid you not.
The Englishman, meanwhile, had already laid out his insurance statements in case things didn’t go his way.
Ange was lucky to have had money to spend and Celtic were well ahead in the Premiership – the implication being that it’d be no big shock if they got their hands on the trophy. It was made clear that Beale was in the midst of a rebuild and needs time.
But with 13 wins and a draw in his first 14 games, Rangers were in solid form, and the performance at Ibrox in January gave them encouragement that they could emerge triumphant if Celtic weren’t at the races.
However, any such aspirations were virtually extinguished in the opening 40 minutes at the weekend.
The Hoops looked a cut above, controlling the midfield and match tempo, but without creating a host of clear chances.
Reo Hatate, Callum McGregor and Aaron Mooy had the beating of Glen Kamara and John Lundstrum, while Daizen Maeda’s energy always had James Tavernier on tenterhooks.
And one minute before half-time the Bhoys got their rewards as Maeda fluffed Greg Taylor’s driven pass at the front post, with Kyogo completely free to stroke in a simple finish.
The party at the interval had Hampden bouncing as fireworks shot into the sky. But only half of the job was done. There could be no let-up.
Regular readers of this column will know how I always warn against complacency, and a scare quickly came when Ryan Kent’s shot came off the post, with Fashion Sakala (yes, the “other mob” fella) somehow managing to only find the side-netting from the rebound.
This brief blip, though, would be quickly forgotten as Kyogo knocked in his second in the 56th minute.
Mooy and Hatate combined to unlock the Rangers defence, with the latter delivering the telling cross for a sliding Kyogo to force home. Pandemonium once again and a bit of breathing room.
Rangers did pull a goal back through their own big man, Alfredo Morelos, but they didn’t have enough quality to turn the heat up on Celtic for an equaliser.
If anything, it was the champions who should have extended their lead in the dying stages as Matt O’Riley and Sead Haksabanovic blew fantastic chances. It was 2-1 going on 5-1.
This squad has a winning mentality that never falters. Under Postecoglou, who retained the first cup he won as boss, they’ve set a standard that few Celtic teams of the past could equal.
The manager said after the game: “We haven’t had many off days because we never look too far ahead and never look too far back. That’s why we have been so relentless in our approach. We’ve been consistent for a very long time and we don’t let our standards slip.
“It’s a cup final and rarely will one side dominate, although I thought we were fantastic in terms of our football in such a big game with the atmosphere the way it was, we scored two excellent goals.”
The man dubbed PostecogWHO in June 2021 on his arrival to Parkhead now has the blue side of Glasgow praying that a cash-flush English Premier League club will soon take him from the Hoops. Ange has other plans, though.
In what will be music to the ears of the Celtic faithful, he said on Monday: “When people say, ‘He’s going to go down the road or somewhere else with the first offer he gets’, it’s not how I’m wired, it’s not how I think. Of course, if people are talking about my future, or are interested in my future, I will sit there and listen. It doesn’t mean I’m going to jump at anything that comes my way.
“I’m hoping that over the course of time as long as I’m here — and I am still here even though people have been getting me out the door and I think you’ll be surprised how long I am here — I’m consumed by trying to make this club the best it can be. And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.”
Irrefutable proof that he’s a man of integrity who won’t abandon ship because a few extra quid came his way.
Brendan Rodgers, who was a fantastic manager for Celtic, was ultimately a careerist and sought a return to England at the first chance he got. And you can see how much he’s loving life as he works wonders at 14th-placed Leicester… Dear reader, the grass isn’t always greener.
Postecoglou was quick to point out that the show keeps running, with a trip to St Mirren on Sunday quickly coming up (kick-off 12pm).
The Saints, who are fifth in the Premiership, have enjoyed an impressive campaign and are the only side to inflict a domestic defeat on the Bhoys this season – a 2-0 victory last September being a stark reminder that Paisley is a tough place to grind out a result.
A title and the Scottish Cup are still there for the taking. A fifth treble in seven seasons looks to be on, but much work remains.
The real prize, for me, is that winning the Premiership once again offers an automatic route into the Champions League group stages, meaning Ange will be afforded the opportunity to be more ambitious in his summer plans. Lucky guy, eh?