At the end of the first half, we witnessed one of the worst decisions any of us is ever going to see. To say it was a shocker is an understatement.
To say that the officials were scandalous is to give them more credit than they are due.
At least two of them, perhaps three, had a clear line of sight to an obvious handball.
It was deliberate, it was a crucial factor in preventing a clear goal scoring chance and it should not only have been a penalty but a straight red card.
There are simply no excuses on offer here.
It was a diabolical moment in a game which flipped on its head.
The next major decision, to send of Craig Gordon and award Inverness a penalty, was unarguable. But had Celtic gone in at half time with a two goal advantage, far less against ten men, it would never have come about.
The whole second half would have had a different complexion … and with it, perhaps, the history books.
So much that is wrong with the Scottish game can be expressed clearly in that moment.
Some will scream Operation: Stop The Treble.
Others will simply point to a level of incompetence that would have people fired from another job.
It matters whether it’s one or the other, it matters a great deal, but what is not in dispute is that these “honest mistakes” cost clubs vast sums of money and change the trajectory of careers, and if the price for managerial failure – which so often turns on moments like these – is high, which it is, then our officials should not be immune from the consequences of these ghastly bad calls.
The officials who “missed” this decision – which happened right in front of their open eyes – ought to be doing something else on a Saturday. Because if they can miss something like that then what exactly is the point to having them near the pitch?
Not only the referee, and not just the linesman, but the extra official behind the goal – who arguably had the best line of sight of all – failed to spot a clear, and obvious, infringement and act accordingly.
That is simply unbelievable, and unacceptable.
It materially influenced the outcome of the match.
It impacts on the remainder of Celtic’s season and it has knock on effects beyond it.
Midway through the first half of extra time, Celtic’ treble ambitions were in shreds. John Guidetti then scored his free kick and that gave the team a zip they hadn’t had for much of the game but to ask any team to play this long with ten men was unrealistic.
It was always more likely than not that this would end in disaster, and it did.
I thought we should have won the match regardless, ten men or not, but it doesn’t matter now.
I didn’t have to play out on that pitch, covering much more ground than usual.
I didn’t have to labour under the enormous psychological pressure those players were under, pressure the officials did nothing at all to lessen and everything to enhance. An early booking for Scott Brown had the captain walking a tightrope, and that could have been avoided had the referee been at all level headed, which on the day he failed to be.
The treble dream is over for another season.
It is the toughest thing in football to accomplish, and days like today are a clear demonstration as to why. The slightest mistake – from a player or from a referee – is amplified 100 times.
I feel pretty gutted – of course – but more than that I feel angry.
To simply not rise to the occasion, to lose it because you just didn’t show up is one thing … to have a monumental and disgraceful decision so clearly impact the course of the game is simply unacceptable.
The team has come a long way though.
To ask them to go that extra mile, with ten men on the pitch for the whole second half plus extra time, has proved too much to ask.
Despite that, we can’t overlook that there are deficiencies in this team, most notably up front where we definitely lack a big, target man who can hold the ball up on a day like today, when we’re forced into playing with one up front.
But I’ve been singing that song now for near on three years. If our scouting system can’t find maybe it’s time to rip it up and start again. How much clearer can it be, for God’s sake?
That needs to be addressed. A tight title race and a reversal like today removes the alibis a treble would have given the board of directors.
They did what they had to do in the January transfer window, signing two players who will make an impact on the team for years to come, but there will be no excuses if they do not give the manager and the fans the players they deserve in the summer.
Congratulations to John Hughes and his team today.
I hope Falkirk trounce them in the final, but I like big Yogi and he deserves credit for what he’s accomplished.
But today belongs to the men in black. Theirs is the contribution to this season that will live longest in memory and infamy.
How much longer do we have to put up with such a staggering degree of ineptitude … or bias?
It matters which one, but not right now.
For now I have some drinking to do.
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