|Scottish Cup semi-final: Celtic v Rangers|
|Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Sunday, 17 April Kick-off: 14:00 BST|
|Coverage: Listen to match commentary & analysis on Sportsound, follow live text updates on BBC Sport website & app, and watch highlights on Sportscene|
“We never stop”. The Ange Postecoglou mantra for Celtic relentlessness can also be applied to the club’s redoubtable Hampden record as they bid to stay on course for a fifth treble in six seasons.
Celtic return this weekend, six years to the day since last suffering defeat at the national stadium, seeking to extend their Hampden hot streak to 18 successive wins.
Out to deny them are Old Firm rivals Rangers – fresh from reaching the Europa League semi-finals – in a high-stakes Scottish Cup last-four blockbuster.
With the League Cup already secured, and three wins from five required to guarantee the Premiership title, can Celtic draw on past experience to nudge closer to crowning Postecoglou’s first season at the helm with a domestic clean sweep?
Agonising defeat brings ‘box office’ manager
Seventeen straight wins. Eleven clean sheets. Forty goals scored and only 10 conceded. Celtic have made Hampden a second home with a formidable sequence of fruitful semi-final and final visits.
They last time they came away defeated was at the same stage of the same competition, and against the same opposition, as they face this Sunday.
Losing a semi-final to Rangers – who were then in the second tier – is always bound to have acrimonious repercussions. But the fallout from that penalty shootout defeat in April 2016 proved the catalyst for a managerial coup that triggered Celtic’s period of unprecedented domestic dominance.
Having seen his side slip to an agonising loss, Celtic owner Dermot Desmond was reportedly so peeved by Rangers directors’ lack of etiquette in fervent celebrations at Hampden that he doubled down on his resolve to find a “box office” manager.
Ronny Deila was quickly jettisoned, former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was appointed his successor, and the glut of trophies soon began rolling in. Hampden was to become Celtic’s happy place.
Mettle for big occasion
Within six months of Rodgers’ arrival, Celtic were back in Mount Florida exacting revenge, dispatching Rangers 1-0 in the semi-final before beating Aberdeen to lift the League Cup.
The three-mile jaunt south from Celtic Park was a regular procession as Rodgers made nine successful trips, collecting two Scottish Cups and three League Cups.
Even the exception – a 2018 League Cup semi-final moved to Murrayfield in Edinburgh – brought a 3-0 victory over Hearts.
Having won all seven available domestic trophies in his near three-year tenure, Rodgers passed the baton to Neil Lennon, who initially kept the silverware coming, culminating in the historic quadruple treble.
That period of unrivalled success came to a shuddering halt last season when Celtic didn’t get a sniff of Hampden, crashing out of both cups early as they finished a catastrophic campaign trophyless for the first time in a decade.
But Postecoglou picked up the pieces, overhauled the squad and melded a winning unit, with St Johnstone and then Hibernian defeated at Hampden as he lifted the League Cup in December for the first silverware of his reign.
Irrespective of who has been at the helm, Celtic haven’t wavered when they have made it to the national stadium. Players have come and gone – Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic and James Forrest are survivors from the Rodgers era – but a steely winning mentality has been a common thread.
The cups haven’t just been handed to them either. Celtic trailed in three finals, to Aberdeen (2017) and Hearts (2019) in the Scottish and Hibs (2021) in the League Cup, before battling back.
Against Rangers in the 2019 League Cup final, Celtic were outplayed and grimly held for the final half hour with 10 men. Against Hearts in the 2020 Scottish Cup showpiece, they squandered a two-goal advantage then let another lead slip in extra-time before prevailing on penalties.
They have beaten big teams on the big occasion. Of Celtic’s 17 consecutive Hampden wins, Aberdeen have been the most common opponent with five defeats. Rangers have been vanquished four times, Hibs three, Hearts and Motherwell two each, and St Johnstone one.
Kyogo return key this weekend?
Celtic approach their latest Hampden assignment in buoyant mood, 33 domestic games unbeaten, and having beaten Rangers a fortnight ago to take a huge step towards the league title. They followed that up by skelping St Johnstone for seven in the biggest win under Postecoglou.
Talisman Kyogo Furuhashi’s return from a lengthy injury lay-off could hardly have come at a better time too. After Giorgos Giakoumakis, who shouldered the strike burden in the Japan international’s absence, pulled up with a muscle twang in last weekend’s rout, Kyogo later bounded off the bench for his first appearance of 2022.
The forward was the decisive factor on Celtic’s last Hampden visit, scoring a sublime double to turn a 1-0 deficit against Hibs into League Cup glory.
He is unlikely to be fully match sharp this weekend, but it was a similar story last time after injury troubles. And the mere sight of the 27-year-old will be enough to unsettle Rangers, says Celtic and Scotland legend Kenny Dalglish.
“Even if Kyogo doesn’t start he’s a hell of a substitute to bring on,” said Dalglish. “If Rangers see him stripping off, you’re not going to be too comfortable are you?”