Graeme McGarry

IF any current Celtic player has forgotten what it feels like to lose a domestic trophy, particularly at the hands of bitter rivals Rangers, then John Hartson’s words ahead of this season’s Betfred Cup final meeting between the sides may prove a valuable cautionary tale.

The former Celtic striker had highs and lows against Rangers over the years, but the pain of one particular loss still haunts him. The 2003 League Cup final remains such a sore point that the Welshman describes it as the low-point of his career.

Hartson thought his day had bottomed out when he had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, but worse was to follow. With Celtic trailing as the clock ticked into the 89th minute, Bobo Balde was tripped in the area by Lorenzo Amoruso and referee Kenny Clark pointed to the spot. Henrik Larsson tossed the ball in his direction, and the rest is history.

“I was robbed,” Hartson said. “I scored a perfectly good goal during that game, two yards onside – proven. It was two yards, it wasn’t one centimetre, talk about clear and obvious.

“Then we got a penalty and Henrik was the penalty taker, but he had only just come back into the team after breaking his jaw against Livingston. While he was out of the team, I had scored two or three penalties.

“We get to the final, and Henrik is generally the penalty taker, but being the consummate professional that he was, he chucks me the ball. He said, ‘you’ve been taking the penalties, you’ve been scoring’.

“Stefan Klos goes one way, I put the ball a yard past the post the other way. It was as low as I felt during my football career.

“Losing the playoff against Russia in Cardiff to go to Portugal 2004 in the Euros was similar, that was how low I felt.

“You feel as if you have let everybody down, you’ve missed a penalty. Henrik should have taken it!”

After winning nine trophies out of the last nine, Hartson knows that if Rangers were to end that sequence in December it would be treated like the end of the world for Celtic. And he believes that whoever wins the one-off fixture will seize the momentum going into the rest of the campaign.

“It would be a major coup for Rangers to win the final,” he said.

“They’ve got to find a way to stop Celtic. Celtic have just been ridiculous with their domination. Nine trophies out of nine, it’s almost embarrassing, isn’t it?

“Winning a cup final does give you momentum and with there being nothing between them in the league so far, it can make a big difference to get that first piece of silverware.”

*John Hartson was presenting a cheque for £25,000 on behalf of his Foundation to Breast Cancer Now. The Hartson Foundation is entering its 10th year and will continue to raise money throughout 2020 for worthy causes.