Celtic completed a historic quadruple treble with a dramatic penalty shootout win over Hearts to lift the Scottish Cup for a 40th time.
Kristoffer Ajer supplied the vital finish to the 2019-20 competition, which took 16 months to complete.
Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard had Celtic cruising by half-time.
But Liam Boyce and Stephen Kingsley sent it into extra time, Leigh Griffiths restored the lead then Josh Ginnelly’s goal led to penalties.
The Celtic board had given its backing to manager Neil Lennon amid demonstrations outside their stadium calling for their former player’s dismissal during a five-game run without a win – and his side have now responded with three consecutive victories.
Hearts, still smarting at having been relegated after the season was called off in March, had arrived at the national stadium clear leaders of the Championship and looking to lift the trophy for a ninth time, but they left having suffered a ninth consecutive defeat by the Glasgow side.
The speculation before kick-off was not just about Lennon’s future but about whether he would stick with the side that had effectively saved his job with wins over Lille and Kilmarnock.
His decision to restore captain Scott Brown and Christie to midfield appeared to prove crucial as his side strolled the first half, although not before Steven Naismith’s toe-poke past Conor Hazard, the 22-year-old goalkeeper hesitating coming for a through ball, had trickled wide of the gaping empty goalmouth.
Hesitation is not something Christie displays whenever he is given a sight at goal and, when Hearts gave the Scotland midfielder too much time to make his trademark run to the edge of the penalty box, he unleashed a stunning drive into the far corner that matched his semi-final finish against Aberdeen.
It looked to be all over within 30 minutes as referee John Beaton pointed to the spot after centre-half Christophe Berra’s wayward hand touched the ball in a crowded goalmouth and Edouard’s cheeky, chipped penalty left former team-mate Craig Gordon looking angry and embarrassed.
However, Hearts regrouped after the break and the game turned when Boyce rose to head home former Rangers midfielder Andy Halliday’s cross.
Hazard came to Celtic’s rescue to save from Ginnelly after a mix-up between Shane Duffy and Christopher Jullien, but when the goalkeeper flapped at the substitute winger’s subsequent corner, Christie was unable to prevent Kingsley’s header crossing the line – a fact confirmed by goalline technology.
Two old Celtic warriors looked to have won it as they combined to beat another, substitute striker Griffiths thumping home after goalkeeper Gordon blocked Brown’s header.
However, when Hazard failed to gather a free-kick inside a packed penalty box, Ginnelly finished from Kingsley’s header across goal to send a Hampden thriller that deserved packed stands instead of an empty stadium to a penalty shootout.
Just when it looked like Gordon, who had never lost a cup final in nine appearances as a junior or senior, would come back to haunt his former club when he saved from Christie, young pretender Hazard responded by keeping out spot-kicks from Kingsley and Craig Wighton.
The final word would come from Ajer, the Norwegian sending his kick past Gordon to ensure he, his team-mates and Lennon’s place in the record books and leave Hearts wondering what might have been.
— Freddie ⚽️ (@Freddie_23_23) December 20, 2020
Man of the match – Josh Ginnelly
What did we learn?
Nobody can take away this historic moment from Lennon – the first to win a treble as both player and manager – and his Celtic side. The victory should also be another step towards dousing the clamour for the Northern Irishman to be replaced as manager, but their fragility in both defence and mentality were again in evidence.
We will never know what the implications would have been if they had squandered such an opportunity – and a two-goal lead – to a side from a league below. What we will know soon enough is whether this will be a turning point as they look to reduce the 16-point gap with Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Despite their defeat, Hearts can gain confidence from the scare they gave the once dominant force in Scottish football. Already strong favourites for the Championship title and promotion, they proved the point that they are a top-flight side in everything but name.
There’s little rest for Lennon’s history makers as they host bottom side Ross County on Premiership duty on Wednesday (18:00), while Hearts have until Saturday to lick their wounds and go again in the Championship at home to Ayr United (15:00).