CELTIC 1 RANGERS 0
CELTIC are on the brink of a historic treble-winning season after a Filipe Jota header thumped them into the Scottish Cup Final in June.
Ange Postecoglou’s men, who can wrap up the title against Hearts at Tynecastle a week today, are zeroing in on a glorious conclusion to an enthralling crusade.
It was the Portuguese maverick who was the difference between the two sides at Hampden this afternoon with a wonderful piece of quick thinking as the interval dawned.
The Ibrox team put in an almighty effort as you would anticipate when you consider their entire season centred on this encounter.
But Celtic were not to be derailed as they fought throughout the incessant rain for yet another derby triumph in a superb campaign.
That’s four wins from five derby encounters, including a 2-1 success in the League Cup Final in February, with the Parkhead men showing conclusively who are masters of domestic football.
HEADMASTER…Filipe Jota nods in the only goal of the semi-final with Allan McGregor stranded and Ben Davies looking on helplessly.
In 23 seconds through the dense smoke, Nico Raskin tried his luck from 25 yards which was deflected wide by Cameron Carter-Vickers.
John Lundstram was exceptionally fortunate not to see at least a yellow card after a wild lunge on Kyogo Furuhashi in the second minute.
Don Robertson, an eleventh-hour replacement for hamstring victim Willie Collum who moved to fourth official, decided not to take action much to the relief of the Scouser.
John Beaton arrived before the half-hour to replace the crocked Collum.
The first 25 minutes, as expected, was a hurly-burly frenzy with both sets of players going at it with a verve and gusto.
Alistair Johnston hit the Hoops’ first shot on target in the 27th minute after a swift exchange with Jota. The Canadian right-back walloped in a right-foot drive which was pushed away by Allan McGregor.
CRUNCH…Alistair Johnston and Nico Raskin duel for possession.
The ball ricocheted in the direction of Matt O’Riley who was taken out of play following a crazy lunge by Borna Barisic. There was no argument on this occasion – the defender was instantly booked.
Bewilderingly, Robertson waved away an appeal by Greg Taylor after he had been clearly flattened by Malik Tillman.
Ironically, the on-loan Bayern Munich midfielder injured himself in the challenge and had to be replaced by Scott Arfield in the 35th minute. Kismet, anyone?
Kyogo was getting a rough ride from Connor Goldson and Ben Davies and the Japanese frontman was getting absolutely no protection from the referee.
However, Celtic swept into the lead in the 42nd minute after the Ibrox defence fell asleep and paid a heavy penalty.
O’Riley moved onto a McGregor short free-kick and got bowled over by Raskin. There was a moment of hesitation with players possibly believing the ref would award a free-kick.
Maeda played to the whistle, seized onto the loose ball, spun to his right and whipped over a marvellous hanging cross.
Jota raced in as James Tavernier was taken unawares and the Portuguese ace buried a close-range header beyond the exposed McGregor.
The Hoops fans just about raised the roof at the stadium in celebration.
PORTUGUESE MAGIC…Filipe Jota uses the head as he claims the crucial winner.
PICK IT OUT…Filipe Jota races away in triumph as Allan McGregor and Ben Davies experience that usual sinking feeling against Celtic.
Barisic, already booked, took an obvious dive in the box as he sought penalty-kick just before the break. Correctly, the match offical ignored the blatant piece of cheating and awarded Celtic a free-kick, but, wrongly, did not wave a yellow card at the Croatian.
That would have seen the defender dismissed and the Ibrox outfit facing the entire second-half with 10 men, but they escaped when Robertson kept his card in his pocket.
Fashion Sakala replaced Ryan Kent after the interval as the Ibrox side tried something new to prise an opening in their opponents’ resolute rearguard.
Five minutes into the second period, Cameron Carter-Vickers took a sore one after a challenge from Alfreo Morelos smack in front of goal. It looked like an escape, but pictures showed about three Ibrox players offside when a right-wing ball from Tod Cantwell dropped into the box.
Johnston, who had been turning in another solid performance, was injured in an accidental clash with Barisic and was replaced in the 54th minute by Anthony Ralston.
SHOVE OFF…Greg Taylor and Tod Cantwell have a disagreement.
In the 57th minute, there was a flash of Reo Hatate as he slid a pass in front of Kyogo who sped in behind davies and away from Goldson, but his quickfire low drive was pushed away by McGregor for a corner-kick low at his left-hand post.
On the hour mark, Hart had his first save of the proceedings when he dived full-length to his right to push a flashing drive from Arfield round the post.
Four minutes later, Kyogo thundered in a 25-yard drive that hurtled just wide and moments afterwards Tavernier left Hart helpless with a first-time right-foot drive that angled beyond the diving Hoops keeper.
The ball smacked off the inside of the upright and Sakala followed up to hit the ball off target.
It was an escape and Ange Postecoglou responded in the 66th minute with a triple substitution as Aaron Mooy, Tomoki Iwata and Sead Haksabanovic came on for O’Riley, Hatate and Jota.
There were moments of danger, but Hart and Carter-Vickers were swift to react to repel the threats to ensure the Hoops remained on track.
MY BALL…Callum McGregor and Malik Tillman tussle in midfield.
Maeda maintained a high-energy performance and he forced a corner-kick after some selfless work on the left in the 78th minute. It was a mesmerising shift from the Japanese international.
In the 81st minute, ref Robertson showed a yellow card to Maeda after a challenge on Cantwell. It was a preposterous decision.
Moments later, Cantwell had a swipe at Haksabanovic and he, too, was booked.
In the 84th minute, Oh Hyeon-gyu was introduced for Kyogo who had nothing left in the tank after another selfless display.
Callum McGregor was next into the referee’s book with a tackle on Hagi.
Now all eyes are on Inverness Caley Thistle at the national stadium on Saturday June 3 as Celtic aim to bring down the curtain in spectacular style.
TEAM: Hart; Johnston (sub: Ralston 54), Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; O’Riley (sub: Mooy 66), McGregor, Hatate (sub: Iwata 66); Jota (sub: Haksabanovic 66), Kyogo (sub: Oh 84), Maeda.