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Celtic's 'treble treble' success opens up comparisons debate

Roddy Forsyth
Celtic celebrate their Scottish Cup final success - Action Plus

Pretty points of comparison about Celtic’s third successive clean sweep of the domestic honours were argued well into the small hours of Sunday morning, even in the hotel on the banks of the River Clyde where Neil Lennon and his players celebrated their victory against Hearts in the William Hill Scottish Cup final.

Not that the Celtic party was concerned with such fine details as they partied the night away after a season that began in Armenia last July and came to a climax at Hampden Park with the Hoops’ 63rd game of a campaign on all fronts.  In adjacent bars and lounges, however, the debates pitched back and forth.

Where does Celtic’s accomplishment fit into the historical context of football in Scotland? Taking Manchester City’s recent feat into account, is the English treble worth three times its Scottish equivalent?

If so, how come Celtic and City drew both ties when they met in the group stage of the Champions League in 2016? And how would this Celtic team fare against the side Brendan Rodgers steered to that first triple crown in 2017?

Would either of these sides be able to stand up to Martin O’Neill’s treble winners of 2001, whose ranks included Paul Lambert, Stilian Petrov, Lubo Moravcik, Shaun Maloney, Chris Sutton, Henrik Larsson and, of course, Lennon himself?

Celtic's Odsonne Edouard celebrates scoring their second goal Credit: Reuters

Another inescapable comparison has swum into focus in recent weeks, with the passing of Billy McNeill and Steve Chalmers, respectively captain of the Lisbon Lions and scorer of the winning goal that made Celtic the first British side to win the European Cup in 1967 – the 52nd anniversary of which, with uncanny timing, fell on Saturday.

The Lisbon Lions were, like Manchester City, primus inter pares in a league from which Rangers also reached a European final and Kilmarnock a semi-final, while Dundee United, in their first Continental engagement, beat Barcelona home and away.

Such is the chewy meat of sporting debate and it has sharpened the appetite of those who contend that this Celtic side has had a relatively easy passage, principally because Rangers have yet to recover from the financial implosion at Ibrox in 2012 and because there are no other contenders with the resources to go toe to toe with the Parkhead club over the course of a season.

That proposition should be less applicable to the knockout competitions which, by definition, present tangible hazard. How often have we witnessed the rare off-day which toppled favourites from their perch?

Is there any stopping Celtic's dominance? Credit: PA

Here, though, is where the triple treble winners have produced their most resolute performances. Saturday’s victory was Celtic’s 27th straight win in the domestic cup competitions, a sequence which includes 21 clean sheets and 83 goals scored, with only eight conceded.

One of those was scored by Ryan Edwards in what was only his third start for Hearts, having taken considerable time to settle after last summer’s move from Partick Thistle. The Australian midfielder produced the opener seven minutes after the interval when he gathered a cute back-heeled pass from Sean Clare and struck his shot through Scott Bain’s legs.

“The way my season has gone I wouldn't have known I’d be starting in the Cup final,” Edwards said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more apart from winning the cup. I’m gutted, to be honest.  Celtic never really got into their rhythm.

“We worked really hard the last couple of weeks to come up with a game plan but the two goals we lost were avoidable and it’s really hard to take.”

The contribution from Edwards was outdistanced by those of Edouard. Odsonne of that ilk is Celtic’s record signing at £9 million and he has borne the burden of being the club’s only bona fide striker for most of the season.

Certainly, his two goals at Hampden were facilitated by rare Hearts errors, first when Zdenek Zlamal needlessly took him down inside the box for a penalty kick which Edouard converted and then when John Souttar allowed the Frenchman to fasten on to Mikael Lustig’s clearance to strike a fine opportunist winner.

Celtic celebrate winning the title earlier this month Credit: Getty Images

It said much for Hearts’ resolve that Celtic were relieved to hear the final whistle sound on their unsurpassed three-year accumulation of honours. The talk amongst Hoops fans is now of winning a record 10 successive titles, the attainment of which now falls to Lennon, whose capacity as interim manager was converted to a longer-term proposition when he was summoned from the shower to be offered the post.

“He will let his hair down and then he will bring in quality players,” Scott Brown said of Lennon.  “He has done that in the past with Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk.”

Of Celtic’s latest accomplishment, their captain said: “We have had to dig deep in some games. A lot of people wrote us off and said we have not had a great season but we've won the three trophies that were there for us to win.

“We just believe in each other. When we look around, we know there are goals all around the park. I’m very proud to have captained these lads.”