BETFRED CUP SEMI-FINAL: SATURDAY 21ST OCTOBER; HIBERNIAN 2 (STOKES (PEN.) 60’, SHAW 71’) CELTIC 4 (LUSTIG 15, 42’, DEMBELE 66’, 88’)
Celtic made it 60 domestic games unbeaten and reached next moth’s Betfred Cup Final after a pulsating clash against Hibs at Hampden Park, which featured an unlikely goal scorer, a dreadful refereeing decision and the return with a vengeance of Moussa Dembele.
Brendan Rodgers made only two changes from the side which lost against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, with Nir Bitton replacing Cristian Gamboa, which allowed Mikael Lustig to switch to right-back and Bitton played at the back, and Callum McGregor replacing Olivier Ntcham.
After a relatively quiet start Celtic began to take control and took the lead in the 15th minute, an Armstrong cross was headed on by Boyata and finished by Lustig at the back post, as Hibs goalie Ross Laidlaw got hands on the ball but failed to keep it out.
After taking the lead Celtic had a very comfortable spell in possession, with Callum McGregor in particular catching the eye in midfield. The second Celtic goal arrived in the 42nd minute, and once again Lustig was the scorer, meeting a Griffiths corner with a volley as Laidlaw fumbled the ball into the net.
So 2-0 to Celtic at half-time and despite our game in midweek we looked very comfortable. The second-half begun with Slivka spurning a great chance to bring Hibs back into the game, as he put a free header wide, before a brilliant counter-attack lead by Tierney and Sinclair ended with a Tierney shot hitting the outside of the post.
The game then changed in an instant thanks to an awful decision by referee Kevin Clancy, who awarded Hibs a penalty following an innocuous challenge by Dedryck Boyata on Martin Boyle, who won the ball cleanly. It was such a poor decision Boyata actually laughed. Judge for yourself below.
Anthony Stokes scored the penalty, and suddenly with half an hour to go Celtic were in a game. Brendan Rodgers responded to this by bringing on Dembele and Forrest for Griffiths and Roberts, and the change had the desired effect as in the 66th minute Dembele pounced on the ball following a goalmouth scramble and finished in style.
Game over, right? Wrong, as four minutes later Hibs got their second goal, a nice passing move putting in Ollie Shaw to score, although Nir Bitton should have defended the situation much better.
The game now swung from end to end, as Celtic began to tire, although James Forrest did force Laidlaw into a couple of good saves. Rodgers made Celtic’s final change bringing on Rogic for Armstrong, and a wonderful one-two between Rogic and Dembele put the striker clean through, but Laidlaw saved the shot and Dembele couldn’t force home the rebound.
Thankfully that miss didn’t prove costly, as in the 88th minute Celtic broke from a Hibs corner and Rogic’s pass found Dembele who curled home a fine finish to kill the game off.
Final score 4-2 to Celtic, and Brendan Rodgers will be delighted with Celtic’s fighting spirit, winning a big game just three days after a big game in Europe. Callum McGregor turned in a fine performance but the big takeaway from the game is the performance of Moussa Dembele, who now surely must be the first choice striker from now on.
So Celtic reach yet another cup final, next stop the top of the table clash against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Wednesday night. Never a dull moment when you’re a big club.