Sport - Celtic with the Cup

Delighted Celtic players celebrate their seventh trophy in a row at Hampden Park.

Bill Heaney on Sport

Ken McNab, our top sportswriter, has called off for today’s column after a complex clash with his computer, so I have come off the bench to deputise for him while he calls in the eggheads to fix it.

Forgive me if I don’t know as much about sport as Ken does (who knows more?), but this week’s sports news suits me.

It’s all about controversy and confrontation, which I have become used to recently  when I am covering politics.

If it wasn’t adversarial of course, all you guys out there would have little to talk about down at the pub – apart from Brexit, of course.

I watched the Betfred Cup Final and the war of words that came afterwards between Brendan Rodgers, Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes and captain Graeme Shinnie.

Sport - McInnes and LustigThe Dons’ manager was angry that two senior Celtic players, Mikael Lustig, pictured left,  and Scott Brown, had taunted Lewis Ferguson, their teenage midfielder, at the end of the match, which Celtic won 1-0.

I know I bristled at the time when I saw it because, while Celtic fans think the world of him, I am no great fan of Broonie.

I was one of many Celtic admirers who would have been happy to see him disappear down to Newcastle United when that was being speculated on in the media.

I always believed his brawn outweighed his brains and that his tackling was often too heavy for what is supposed to be the beautiful game.

Shinnie claimed that the behaviour of the Celtic pair “lacked class” while McInnes confronted Lustig on the pitch at the final whistle.

Lustig denied the accusation, claiming that his “banter” had been directed at McInnes and not the 19-year-old.

Well, that may have been the case with Lustig, but Brown was at it

Brendan Rodgers did what managers do and defended his players. He claimed he saw nothing sinister.

The Celtic coach added that he was “disappointed” that McInnes had chosen to complain.

He added: “I can understand the emotion when you lose a game of that magnitude, when you’ve wanted it so much, but I didn’t see Mikael goad the boy Ferguson at all.

“If you look at us as a team, look at our record and all of that, then I think we’re a very sporting team, considering every game we play is a huge pressure game.  So I can’t agree with that [criticism from the Aberdeen camp].”

Rodgers conceded that the long- running feud between Brown and Shinnie “probably” contributed to the situation.

He stressed that he would clamp down on his players if he felt they were antagonising opponents.

Shinnie made it clear that he refused to shake hands with Brown after the match, which could also be construed as a lack of respect.

“Absolutely; I can understand the raw emotion of it all,” Rodgers said. “They’ve lost their third cup final to us. That emotion is in the game, and players and managers are not robots.”

Action from the Rangers V Hearts match and a fan who looks pleased with his team’s performance. Pictures by Bill Heaney

Steven Gerrard, who is certainly no robot, is also making headlines on the discipline front while his team is at the top of league.

He has warned his Rangers players to cut-out the red cards or risk ruining their title bid.

Gerrard reiterated his belief he doesn’t have a dirty team, but knows the red-card count is seven and hopes it remains at that.

Gerrard revealed he has spoken to the players about the situation ahead of tonight’s crunch match against Aberdeen.

He said: “Some red cards we have deserved, some we feel a little bit hard done by, but we’ve had seven, which is too many and we’ve told the players that.”

The Ibrox squad were in danger of losing key players for important games – “We have players who will compete, but Daniel Candeias has had two red cards and he’s not a dirty player.

“Scott Arfield isn’t a dirty player, but he made a mistake and he will be rightly punished for it.  We have to all as a group improve our disciplinary record.”

Gerrard is confident his team will still be at the top of the table come Thursday morning.

Celtic will have something to say about that when they meet Motherwell, however, an enigmatic team whose results and performances are unpredictable.

He said: “It’s a bit early to be thinking about title challenges. It’s really nice to be top, but we have to make sure we remain grounded and humble and realise the circumstances.

“Celtic will know we are going to be trying to be as competitive as we can, but we have to show respect.

 “They have won the last seven trophies, they are playing well, Kilmarnock are doing well. There are other teams in there.

“There’s no way in the world anyone is getting carried away here.”

Gerrard, meanwhile, stood up for striker Alfredo Morelos after Hearts boss Craig Levein made reference to the Colombian avoiding punishment at Tynecastle last weekend for his combative approach.

Alfredo, who has become the fans’ favourite, is the player Gerrard would most hate to lose.

OK, he’s an actor but his goal against Hearts to put Rangers top was well offside, but it would be unwise leave him out of the team.

Ryan Christie, Cup Final man of the match and goal scorer with Kieran Tierney on the megaphone and concern over injured Gary Mackay Stevens.

A breath of fresh air to the game has been the rise and rise of Ryan Christie at Celtic.

He was Man of the Match and scored a wonderful goal in the Cup Final.

If there are questions about the commitment of the Frenchmen to Celtic, then watch out for at least one of them departing in the transfer window, most probably Olivier Ntcham leaving the club in January.

Our best wishes go to Gary Mackay Stevens for a quick recovery from that horrible head injury he took on Sunday, and to Dedryk Boyata who was on the other end of it.

Can I just say as I return to the dressing room (for good, you hope) that Andrew Dallas, the referee in the Cup Final, was dreadful? Taxi for Heaney.

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