Ten years have passed since Ross County delivered one of the great Scottish Cup shocks by upstaging Celtic at Hampden, but the memories remain crystal clear for Derek Adams.
The Staggies, then playing in the First Division, were major underdogs against Neil Lennon’s Hoops, who included Robbie Keane, Scott Brown and Aiden McGeady in their ranks.
Keane was being paid £65,000 per week while on loan from Tottenham at the time – 100 times what Ross County’s highest earner was receiving.
But it was the Staggies who claimed a deserved victory at the national stadium on an unforgettable afternoon when Steven Craig gave County the lead early in the second half before Martin Scott made sure of victory two minutes from time.
Few outside of Dingwall gave County any chance heading into the match but Adams always felt confident his side were capable of causing an almighty upset.
Adams, now manager of Morecambe Town, said: “It was a fantastic day for us.
“Leading up to the match, I remember the players were extremely focused but also extremely relaxed in the hotel in Cumbernauld.
“On Saturday morning you wouldn’t have known that they were going into the biggest game in the history of the football club.
“From a manager’s point of view, I took reassurance from the squad that they were ready for the game.
“We got a police escort to the stadium and a lot of the players were buzzing from that because it was something surreal to them.
“When we got to Hampden as we went down the ramp to park, the place was full of Ross County supporters there to cheer us on.
“That really hit home to the players when they got to the stadium.
“They were playing with the new Adidas ball, which was a change to the Mitre on regular matchdays.
“For a footballer, it may be a bit childish in many respects, but it was like a new toy.
“They were excited at being in the changing rooms and then getting to walk out on to the pitch at Hampden for a Scottish Cup semi-final.
“Celtic had Neil Lennon in charge and he had only recently taken over. They had Robbie Keane in their side but our players showed no fear of the opposition.
“We had Paul Lawson and Michael Gardyne who had played for Celtic before so it was a great occasion for them.
“We also had players who had shown against Hibernian in the quarter-final how well they could play.
“That gave them confidence going into the game.”
Adams got his tactics spot-on to stem the attacking threat posed by Celtic and put pressure on a Hoops defence that had struggled all season.
He said: “We had planned to stop McGeady getting the ball on the touchline. Steven Craig was stopping the supply to McGeady on the left-hand side. We wanted the ball hit on a diagonal from Lee Naylor to Georgios Samaras and it worked perfectly well.
“A 50-yard ball was much easier to defend than a 10-yard ball to McGeady.
“We nullified Celtic’s threat and we had a sitting midfielder in Richie Brittain protecting the ball from getting into Robbie Keane.
“We had good players in the middle of the park in Martin Scott and Iain Vigurs, who could run forward and create openings. We had Gardyne and Steven Craig on either side who could score goals and Andy Barrowman up front.
“We were blessed with a bit of pace, creativity and goalscorers.
“I told the players at half-time to believe in themselves as they had done a perfect job in the first 45 minutes.
“We needed to get the goal and there were great celebrations when Steven Craig got it early in the second half.
🎥GOAL OF THE DAY🥅
👤 Steven Craig & Martin Scott
🏆 Scottish Cup Semi Final
📅 10th April 2010 pic.twitter.com/Ci7TZP9zkz
— Ross County FC (@RossCounty) April 10, 2020
“After we scored to make it 2-0, the last five minutes probably lasted as long as the first 85 minutes because it was a great occasion.
“We knew at that stage we were going to a Scottish Cup final.
“The fans were doing the ‘ole’ when we were passing the ball about. You don’t get many occasions to do that at Hampden Park against Celtic.”
The match remains a proud highlight for Adams of his successful time at County but it almost cost his Celtic counterpart Lennon his chance to manage the Hoops on a permanent basis.
It was the Northern Irishman’s third game in charge as caretaker manager after replacing the sacked Tony Mowbray.
Adams said: “I remember in the first 15 minutes of the match I didn’t move from the dugout area which was quite a distance from the pitch.
“I was really happy with how the players were playing and their organisation.
“I saw Neil Lennon on the touchline and he was just into the job and he kept looking around and he was agitated on the touchline.
“I said to my staff I wasn’t going to go down there. Neil felt there was something not right and I didn’t want to agitate my players. I was comfortable with how they were playing and dealing with the situation.
“That was how it played out. They tried to change things but our players – Michael McGovern, Gary Miller, Alex Keddie, Scott Boyd and Scott Morrison – did exceptionally well at the back and it gave us the platform to go and play.
“I didn’t get the chance to get into the dressing room right away because the media always want to get hold of the manager after a big occasion.
“The players were ecstatic to beat Celtic and reach the Scottish Cup final as a club playing in the second tier.
“We had a very small wage bill. I think our highest-paid player was on £650 per week, but that simply tells you what a good squad we had.”