CELTIC 6 INVERNESS CALEY TH 0
MARAUDING Moussa Dembele fired in his second hat-trick in successive weekends as Celtic hit their Highland rivals for six at Parkhead this afternoon to book their place in the Scottish Cup draw tomorrow.
Brendan Rodgers beamed his delight at the end and must have been particularly satisfied that both his full-backs, Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney, as well as skipper Scott Brown joined in on the goalscoring romp.
Caley Thistle, the only club to prevent the Hoops from having a perfect domestic record in this campaign, came to the east end of Glasgow prepared for a scrap.
They were aggressive in their approach, had four players booked in the first-half and were more than fortunate that at least one of them wasn’t dismissed.
But once Lustig grabbed the opener in the 20th minute, there was never going to be a shock on the cards.
The champions took over, claimed another strike just before the interval – the first of Dembele’s trio – and swept Richie Foran’s men aside in a one-sided second-half.
Craig Gordon didn’t have a single shot on target to deal with such was the dominance of his team-mates in front of him.
The breakthrough goal arrived when James Forrest, who was outstanding throughout, indulged in a bit of trickery on the right before sending a pass inside to Nir Bitton 30 yards out.
Lustig darted into the centre-forward’s position as the defence took their eye off the ball.
The Israeli international midfielder lofted a sublime pass into the defender’s tracks and he took a sublime touch with his right foot before rolling it beyond keeper Owan Fon Williams with his left.
It was an exquisite effort and set the scene for what was to follow.
Referee Kevin Clancy was in an extremely lenient mood and didn’t even have a word with Brad McKay when he flattened Liam Henderson with a blatant bodycheck in the middle of the park.
Similarly, Ross Draper battered into the back of Tierney to leave him grounded with the match official content to wave play on.
However, Carl Demarco wasn’t quite so fortunate when he sent Forrest flying with a cynical trip on the winger that earned the left-back a yellow card.
Four minutes later, Draper went into the book after a kick at Brown off the ball. The referee saw the incident, but flashed only yellow. It could have been so easily have been red.
In the 37th minute, Ian Vigurs should have been sent packing after a shocking lunge at Scott Sinclair.
There was no intention to play the ball and the wayward challenge took place right in front of Clancy. However, he merely booked the Highland side’s midfielder.
Caley Thistle certainly did not arrive at Parkhead with any intention of playing entertaining, attractive football.
Their style is not easy on the eye. And neither is it easy on the opposition’s anatomy. They wanted to spoil the game as they clattered into tackles, but Celtic refused to be intimidated and simply replied by taking them apart in a strictly footballing sense.
Three minutes from the turnaround, Gary Warren went into the book after hacking down Dembele as the crime count threatened to go through the roof.
Henderson, scorer of the opening goal against St Johnstone last week, was desperate to get on the scoresheet, but was well off target with four attempts in the first-half.
The killer second goal arrived just before the interval and it was the unstoppable Dembele who picked up where he left off in Perth on Sunday by claiming it.
Once again, Forrest was the architect with a clever run on the right before he picked out the French ace about 14 yards out.
He sent a measured ball towards the left-hand corner of the goal and keeper Fon Williams got a hand to the effort, but couldn’t prevent it from squirming under his body and over the line.
It took only five minutes into the second period for Dembele to hit his second and the Hoops’ third.
Henderson sent a neat pass to Sinclair who passed it onto Brown. David Raven charged in to divert the ball away from the Hoops captain, but only succeeded in knocking it in front of the Parkhead phenomenon.
Dembele didn’t hesitate as he took it first time on the run to send an effort thundering low past Fon Williams’ left hand.
Nine minutes afterwards, the French Under-21 striker was celebrating his treble and his third hat-trick of the season – the other came in the 5-1 demolition of Sevco Rangers in September.
Dembele started the move by spreading the ball wide to Forrest. The winger scampered past a Draper challenge before hoisting a cross into the danger zone.
And the lethal hitman arrived bang on time to send an explosive header ripping into the roof of the net for his 26th goal of the campaign.
Boss Rodgers then sent on Callum McGregor for Henderson before Forrest made his only mistake of the afternoon.
In the 68th minute, he intercepted a slack pass from Warren, but, with only the keeper to beat, he weakly mishit a shot yards wide of the upright.
Lustig went into the ref’s book for tugging Vigurs in the 73rd minute and, amazingly, the Caley Thistle player did exactly the same a minute later when he pulled back Bitton.
Vigurs, booked in the first-half, escaped a second yellow which irritated a section of the home support. It was just one of the many mystifying decisions by the match official.
Eight minutes from the end, Dembele went off to rapturous applause with Nadir Ciftci taking his place.
Four minutes later, Tierney scored his first goal of the season after Forrest gathered a Bitton pass and crossed accurately into the box.
It was just too high for Sinclair, but the left-back, showing the prowess of a seasoned frontman, came plunging in to send a header swirling past Fon Williams.
Dedryck Boyata, who hardly put a foot wrong all day, was replaced in the fading moments by Kolo Toure.
However, skipper Brown still had time to have the final say when he blitzed in a sixth goal in the last minute.
Sinclair got the move in motion with a run on the left and cut the ball back. A defender got a touch, but it fell into the tracks of the midfielder who fired an unsaveable drive into the top corner.
Unbeatable. Ruthless. Excellent. Magical. Select your own adjective, but this Celtic team look to be heading towards a memorable conclusion to their manager’s debut season at Parkhead.
And how they deserve it!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata (sub: Toure 88), Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton; Forrest, Henderson (sub: McGregor 66), Sinclair; Dembele (sub: Ciftci 82).