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BEAUTIFUL, MAGICAL

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ALBION ROVERS 0 CELTIC 3
BRENDAN RODGERS’ treble-chasing team picked up where they left off in the first half of the campaign with a sound win over gallant Albion Rovers at the Excelsior Stadium this afternoon.

Goals from Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele and Stuart Armstrong were enough to take the Hoops through to a home fifth round encounter against Inverness Caley Thistle next month.

It was a good day all round and Sir Rod Stewart, who helped with the draw and presented his favourites with a Parkhead tie, looked as happy as anyone in green and white in Airdrie.

There was a massive welcome back at the start for Kieran Tierney who made his first appearance since the Betfred League Cup semi-final on October 29.

And the teenage left-back, who performed for 61 minutes before making way for Callum McGregor, showed he had completely recovered from the ankle and shoulder injuries that sidelined him for such a lengthy period.

Rodgers also went with a new central defensive partnership of the versatile Mikael Lustig and Dedryck Boyata, coming in for his second game of the campaign.

Jozo Simunovic was on the subs’ bench with Erik Sviatchenko suspended.

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The Croat, though, came out for the second-half after Lustig had picked up a knock.

The Rovers part-timers proved they were up for the Cup with a display of stubborn resolution until their resistance was broken by a moment of sheer magic from Sinclair on the half-hour mark.

Tierney, displaying that lethal combination of energy and enthusiasm that has become his trademark, set it up and Sinclair did the rest.

He took a touch on the left-hand side of the penalty area, looked up and sent a sublime right-foot curler towards Ross Stewart’s goal.

At one stage on its flight path, the ball looked so high it appeared to be heading for nearby Coatbridge.

However, it took a wicked dip and swerve and flummoxed the keeper as it clattered into the net.

It was the ideal way for the Hoops to kick-start the second half of the season and signal their intentions.

Three weeks’ worth of rust during the winter break were shaken loose with a much-needed game before the Premiership resumes with a home game against St Johnstone on Wednesday – and the opportunity to equal the 26-game unbeaten record of Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions set in season 1966/67.

Earlier, James Forrest sent Armstrong free, coming in from the right. But the midfielder’s effort swept just over the crossbar.

Dembele also threatened Stewart – Ross not Rod – with a flying header as he got on the end of a long, hanginging crossball from Lustig. Unfortunately, his attempt was just off target.

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In the 24th minute, Sinclair and Tierney combined, but the keeper just managed to block the Englishman’s angled drive.

The first opportunity of the second period arrived when Simunovic drifted forward in elegant fashion before slipping the ball in front of Cristian Gamboa.

The Costa Rican right-back turned expertly before driving a wicked shot just wide of the keeper’s right-hand post.

Goodness knows how the defender would have celebrated if the ball had hit the net – his last club goal was seven years ago!

Dembele powered another header wide of the same upright and Boyata came even closer when he directed a clever left-wing cross from McGregor onto the crossbar.

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Ross Dunlop cleared a Simunovic flick off the line as the procession towards the Rovers goal continued.

Patrick Roberts came on for Forrest in the 74th minute and exploded onto the scene as he set up two goals with extraordinary dribbling skills.

The on-loan Manchester City winger left three opponents in his wake with a breathtaking burst of pace before picking out skipper Scott Brown on the right.

He zipped the ball across the face of the goal and the inrushing Dembele completed the job from three yards.

And in the last minute, Roberts again bamboozled the Rovers defence, sent an inviting ball into the danger zone and Armstrong’s timing was impeccable as he arrived bang on time to lash the ball into the roof of the net.

And here’s a warm thought on a cold January day – five out of the last six times Celtic have beaten the Cliftonhill team in the Scottish Cup they have gone on to win the trophy!

TEAM: Gordon; Gamboa, Lustig (sub: Simunovic 46), Boyata, Tierney (sub: McGregor 61); Brown, Bitton; Forrest (sub: Roberts 74), Armstrong, Sinclair; Dembele.

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