BRENDAN RODGERS singled out “top guy” Joe Hart after Celtic’s nerve-shredding penalty-kick shoot-out success in a see-sawing Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen.

A remarkable encounter was locked at 3-3 after extra-time when it went to spot-kicks to see who would return to Hampden for the showpiece occasion on the iconic date of May 25.

Hart clattered the woodwork with the Hoops’ fifth effort from 12 yards. A successful conversion would have put the holders into into next month’s grand finale and the opportunity to bring down the curtain on a topsy-turvy campaign with a flourish.

The Dons had already missed with one attempt after Ryan Duncan had fired against the keeper’s left-hand post when Killian Phillips stepped up to take their seventh kick.

HAIL THE HAMPDEN HERO…Joe Hart and his Celtic team-mates at the conclusion of a pulverising Scottish Cup semi-final at a rocking national stadium.

Tomoki Iwata had just made it 6-5 for the Hoops with a textbook spot-kick and all eyes were on the young Dons star.

He hit his effort low to Hart’s left, but, on this occasion, the 37-year-old netminder was swift to react to throw himself across his line to block the attempt.

And with that save from the veteran who intends to retire next month Rodgers’ unbeaten Hampden record remained intact at the tenth time of asking.

The Northern Irishman shook his head as he said: “It’s funny how football worked. Joe dragged his penalty too far to the keeper’s right – I can see what he was thinking.

“Their keeper looked injured, so he was trying to move him as much as he could to find the corner, but it didn’t quite work out.

“But he got up, he’s a really top guy who then puts that to the side and makes the critical save.”

SPOT-KICK SAVIOUR…Joe Hart dives to repel Killian Phillips’ attempt.

Rodgers explained: “The work’s done beforehand, so you can still prepare and it’s something we work on over the course of the season and, in particular, the last couple of days wen all the players have taken penalties.

“But then it’s the nerve of the player and, thankfully, that held out and they scored some very good penalties, and then Joe made the critical save.

“The history of this club is built on Scottish Cups, but for now, we can put that to bed. We’ve got a great game to look forward to on May 25 and we’ve got to come into that in the best form that we possibly can.

“Now, though, we look towards Dundee next week.”

Celtic walked the tightrope at the national as they gifted their opponents the advantage in exactly one minute and 56 seconds as Bojan Miovski raced clear to beat the exposed Hart.

ONE…Nicolas Kuhn leaves Kelle Roos helpless as he strokes home Celtic’s equaliser.

TWO…James Forrest takes the salute after firing the holders into the lead.

THREE…Matt O’Riley takes to the air after making it 3-2 for the Hoops.

Nicolas Kuhn snapped up the equaliser and James Forrest, who had just replaced the ineffective Yang Hyun-jun moments earlier, flashed in the second in the 63rd minute.

However, Ester Sokler was left unattended at the back post to head in a 90th-minute leveller to force the tie into extra-time. Matt O’Riley calmly put the finishing touches to a superb move concerning Alistair Johnston, the Hoops’ Man of the Match, and Forrest in the 106th minute.

Amazingly, the Pittodrie club were allowed a third goal with a replica of their second when Angus MacDonald was unguarded to head past the exposed Hart in the fading moments of the added-on period.

Then came the dramatic conclusion with Adam Idah, Luis Palma, O’Riley and Paulo Bernardo tucking their efforts behind Kelle Roos before Hart’s stutter.

Johnston made an accomplished job with his penalty as did Iwata before Hart brought an end to the anxiety among the Celtic fans when he repelled Phillips’ attempt.

CUP FINAL HERE WE COME…Joe Hart leads the Celtic procession after a nerve-shredding semi-final.

It was all breathless stuff and Rodgers, speaking to Celtic TV, said: “It feels great to get through and we had to work really hard. Big credit to both teams who put on a really good spectacle and, thankfully for our supporters, they can look forward to another Final.

“I was disappointed with the start. Aberdeen worked it well and we were too passive, there was too much space, and their striker, who’s a good player, finished it well.

“So, from a couple of minutes in, we were chasing the game, but we got ourselves back in, and from that we created opportunities in the game and then we went 2-1 up.

“Jamesy came in and added that class and quality to the game.”

Rodgers added: “We had other chances to wrap it up and make it 3-1, but we’ve conceded twice more from crosses into the box, which wasn’t so good from our perspective.

BY THE RIGHT…the impressive Alistair Johnston fires in a cross despite the efforts of Connor Barron.

“Matt’s goal was a great example of what we should have done a little bit more – we built it out, worked our way up the pitch and got into a great space and Ali Johnston pulled it back.

“When Matt scored, it was then a case of looking after the ball and managing it. We stuck on another centre-half at the end because we knew the balls were going to come into the box, but, sadly, we still conceded from another cross into the box.

“But the guys showed great nerve and big heart, when they could have been really disappointed, and so we get to the Final.”

The holders will face either Hearts or Philippe Clement’s Ibrox side in next month’s silverware showdown. The teams kick off at 3pm at Hampden today to see who earns the right to meet Rodgers’ men.


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