CELTIC 1 ST JOHNSTONE 0
BERTIE AULD would surely have approved on the clinical and professional way Celtic went about demolishing St Johnstone at Hampden tonight to book a place in the Premier Sports League Cup Final on Sunday December 19.
The Lisbon Lion, who sadly passed away on Sunday at the age of 83, was honoured with the Hoops players wearing No.10 shorts as Ange Postecoglou attempted to guide his team through to within 90 minutes of his first piece of silverware as Hoops gaffer.
The Perth side, who won both domestic Cups last season, were resolute and determined, as anticipated, but the only goal of a tense encounter arrived in the 73rd minute and it was claimed by substitute James Forrest who had only been on the pitch four minutes.
HAMPDEN HEROES…James Forrest races away after scoring the matchwinner with skipper Callum McGregor about to join in.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM…Ange Postecoglou acknowledges the cheers of some early arrivals among the Celtic support.
Keeper Zander Clark miskicked a passback as he was harried by Kyogo Furuhashi and that was all Filipe Jota required to snap onto the clearance 35 yards out.
He took it on his chest and raced into the danger zone before zipping in a low cross from the left. It was deflected away from goal by Jamie McCart, but fell invitingly to the lurking Forrest.
The winger wasted no time in flashing a right-foot drive from six yards into the inviting net as the Hoops fans roared in delight – and no little relief.
The outstanding chance of the first-half fell to David Turnbull in only four minutes, but, unfortunately, the midfielder blazed the ball over the bar from 12 yards.
BLOCKED…Liel Abada is out of luck with a right-foot drive.
Callum McGregor had set the move in motion with a neat pass to the ever-dangerous Jota whose left-wing cross fell perfectly into the tracks of the Scotland international, but his finishing was wayward as he walloped the ball wildly off target.
It was a break for the Saints who were allowed to keep to their game plan to sit deep and invite the Hoops onto them while looking to hit of the break.
In fact, a moment of tardiness from Joe Hart almost gifted them the only goal of the opening 45 minutes when he dallied on a passback from Stephen Welsh. Michael O’Halloran determinedly chased down the ball as the keeper prepared to pick out a team-mate.
BY THE RIGHT…Filipe Jota fires in a drive as Shaun Rooney attempts to intervene.
However, the netminder took too long to make his move and the pacy Perth attacker managed to block his clearance and the ball ricocheted just a yard or so past the right-hand upright much to the former England international No.1’s relief. And everyone else of a Celtic persuasion.
Postecoglou’s men, as anticipated, were the aggressors with Jota looking particularly lively on the left-wing as his darting raids created consternation and confusion in the Saints rearguard, but his colleagues could not take advantage.
Referee Nick Walsh seized on the opportunity to issue a yellow card to Nir Bitton for a challenge on Chris Kane in the 14th minute. There wasn’t much in it, but it was enough for the whistler to reach for a card and that left the Israeli walking a tightrope for the remainder of the confrontation.
CELTIC’S TWELFTH MAN…the fans show their awesome support with their colourful tribute to Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld.
While the Hoops dominated, the Saints players were doing their best to frustrate them and Liel Abada and McGregor saw goalbound shots diverted by last-ditch blocks.
And there was a scare for the Parkhead men just before the interval when Kane turned Welsh about 25 yards out and lashed in a vicious low shot which swept wide of Hart’s left-hand post with the keeper scrambling across his line.
The second period followed much the same pattern as the first with Celtic on the front foot, the Saints content to soak up the pressure and look for an opening at the other end.
In the 69th minute, Postecoglou made his first change which was predictable in taking off Abada, who was having a particularly quiet night and put on Forrest which, of course, turned out to be a matchwinning and inspirational move.
HAMPDEN HURRAHS…James Forrest races away after scoring the winner with David Turnbull, Callum McGregor and Josip Juranovic in pursuit.
Then came Forrest’s telling contribution to clinch a place in the Final next month against either Hibs or the Ibrox team who meet at the national stadium tomorrow afternoon.
Welsh was floored by an elbow to the face by Shaun Rooney in the 75th minute which rightly brought a yellow card for the Saints defender. Slow motion pictures showed the Perth player could have had no complaints if the whistler had gone straight for a red.
After three minutes of treatment, the centre-back had to be replaced by James McCarthy with Bitton going into central defence.
A minute into seven minutes of stoppage time, Postecoglou sent on a hat-trick of subs in the shape of Albian Ajeti, Mikey Johnston and Ismaila Soro for Kyogo, Jota and Turnbull.
It was just a case of remaining professional and getting the result over the line with the Saints trying hard to snatch an equaliser.
SO NEAR…Mikey Johnston thumps in a right-foot shot in stoppage time that brought a smart reflex save from St Johnstone keeper Zander Clark.
Johnston, in fact, had the opportunity deep into added-on time to double the advantage, but the winger was denied by the boot of Clark who made with an excellent instinctive save.
Hart was rarely trouble and Postecoglou and Co now have another date at Hampden – six days before Christmas.
What a wonderful prospect of an early gift for the Greek-Australian gaffer.
Wee Bertie would approve.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Welsh (sub: McCarthy 78), Juranovic; Bitton, McGregor, Turnbull (sub: Soro 91) Abada (sub: Forrest 69), Kyogo (sub: Ajeti 91), Jota (sub: Johnston 91).
FOOTNOTE: The Celtic supporters deserve a thunderous round of applause for their vocal backing of the team right from the kick-off. Hampden rocked as they roared on the team while their tribute to Bertie Auld in the 67th minute was spectacular. The legendary Hoops star always insisted the fans were Celtic’s twelfth man. They proved that again with their awesome support at Hampden. Take a bow, Bhoys.