Celtic face Hearts in Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup final as they aim to complete their fourth straight domestic treble.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the Hampden showpiece to be delayed by seven months and much has changed for both clubs since the original May 9 date – with the Hoops’ dreams of 10-in-a-row hanging by a thread and the Jambos now in the Championship.
Here the PA news agency takes a look at the big talking points ahead of the final.
Last stand for Lennon or launchpad to recovery?
The Board of Celtic Football Club wishes to make clear its continuing support for Neil Lennon and his backroom team. — Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) December 7, 2020
Hoops boss Neil Lennon has clung on to his job in the face of the club’s worst run of results in 25 years and angry fan protests outside Celtic Park.
Majority shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell have continued to stand by the Northern Irishman, insisting he is the man to turn around the team’s fortunes.
Back-to-back wins over Lille and Kilmarnock have at last injected a sliver of confidence into the Celtic ranks and that dose could be sent soaring by a trophy win. However, Lennon might not survive much longer if his side are slain by Robbie Neilson’s team.
Hoops selection dilemma
Stick by the old guard that have taken Celtic to 11 straight trophies but are now showing signs of strain or go with some of the fresh blood that has finally offered the first green shoots of a recovery this term? That is the choice facing Lennon this weekend.
Scott Brown has been a forceful figure down the years but he has been far from his best and has sat out the last two games, while the likes of Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie look worn out by the gruelling workload the champions have been forced to undertake in recent years.
New Bhoys David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro came in against Lille and immediately provided a much-needed verve that saw them keep their places for the 2-0 win over Killie.
Shane Duffy has even shown signs of improvement after his error-strewn start to life in Glasgow – but keeping the on-loan Brighton defender in the team will mean Kristoffer Ajer has to move to right-back unless Lennon opts again to try a back-three system.
Lennon says he will show loyalty to the men who have taken his side this far but can he afford to drop the men in form?
Gordon out to haunt old side
🆕 Craig Gordon has been rewarded for his fine Hearts form by being called up to the Scotland squad.— Heart of Midlothian FC (@JamTarts) November 3, 2020
Celtic may not have found themselves in quite so big a mess this season had they made sure to keep hold of Craig Gordon last summer.
However, with the Hoops hierarchy intent on luring Fraser Forster back on loan from Southampton, Gordon decided he had had enough of warming the Parkhead bench and chose to return to Tynecastle.
When Forster backed out of another stint in Glasgow, Lennon was forced to turn to Greek stopper Vasilis Barkas but the £5million signing from AEK Athens has yet to prove he is worth that hefty fee.
Scott Bain has hardly impressed either and Celtic are now onto their third keeper of the season, with Conor Hazard starting the last two games. Gordon, meanwhile, has already earned himself a Scotland recall on the back of his Hampden heroics against Hibernian in the semi-finals.
Jambos see festive cheer at last
This time last year, the Gorgie faithful were hoping for better things to come – unfortunately, they did not. The appointment of Daniel Stendel as boss failed to galvanise a badly under-performing squad that found itself bottom of the table as coronavirus made its way onto British shores.
But it was the decision of their rivals to relegate the capital club which left Hearts fans feeling sick. Owner Anne Budge took her fight to the courts only to suffer yet more disappointment as the Tynecastle club’s enforced demotion to the Championship was confirmed.
A year of misery gave its first glimpse of hope on Halloween when Robbie Neilson’s team shocked top-flight city rivals Hibs to claim a place in the final and they will hope to give their long-suffering fans something to finally cheer about on Sunday.
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