CELTIC 2 KILMARNOCK 0
A FIRST-HALF goal from Daizen Maeda and a stoppage-time effort from Giorgos Giakoumakis fired Celtic into next month’s Viaplay League Cup Final on an evening at Hampden when the holders were as relentless as the torrential rain.
Ange Postecoglou’s side claimed a hard-fought victory against tough opponents when the Japanese and the Greek raiders grabbed the strikes, but VAR also denied them two other efforts in the second-half.
One from Maeda was marginal while the other from Reo Hatate was highly contentious.
It was a battle in monsoon conditions, but the goal deep in added-on time from Giakoumakis made certain the Parkhead men will be back at the national stadium to play either Aberdeen or the Ibrox side in the showdown for the season’s first piece of silverware.
THUMB’S UP…Ange Postecoglou weathers the storm at Hampden to emerge victorious.
A superb save from Joe Hart denied Killie taking a shock lead in the sixth minute when he got down in a flash to turn a powerful low drive from Rory McKenzie round his right-hand post.
The Rugby Park attacker latched onto a loose pass inside from Carl Starfelt to head straight towards enemy territory. He unleashed a wicked 25-yard effort that skidded off the sodden surface, but the veteran shotstopper showed lightning reactions to make the save.
The holders were finding it difficult to get into their normal rhythm in the first 15 minutes with their opponents snapping into every challenge all over the park.
In the 18th minute, Celtic took the lead with an extraordinary goal from Maeda – with comeback Killie winger Kyle Lafferty playing a major role in the breakthrough strike.
Aaron Mooy swung in a wonderful arcing free-kick from the right that just cleared the head of Cameron Carter-Vickers and a posse of Killie defenders. Lafferty at the far post mishit an attempted clearance and the ball cannoned off the Japanese striker and ricocheted past the stunned Sam Walker.
It wasn’t the most elegant finish seen at the national stadium, but it was most welcome on an evening that was hardly conducive to Celtic’s intricate passing play.
GOING…Daizen Maeda strikes as the Killie defence fails to deal with an Aaron Mooy free-kick.
GOING…Killie keeper Sam Walker and centre-back Ash Taylor have that sinking feeling as Daizen Maeda’s effort soars towards its destination.
GONE…Daizen Maeda celebrates his crucial breakthrough goal as Cameron Carter-Vickers sits it out.
Two minutes later, Joe Wright was allowed acres of space in the penalty box to get his head to a right-wing free-kick and once again Hart was forced to scramble across his line to push the ball for a corner-kick.
Swarms of Killie players surrounded Hoops players when they were on the ball and the one Celt who looked more comfortable than most in the swirling, testing conditions was Mooy who brought order to the play when he was in control.
Alexandro Bernabei was struggling in the conditions and Daniel Armstrong, his direct opponent, was doing his utmost to expose the Argentinian left-back’s unease.
Hatate was being marked by the dogged Liam Donnelly wherever he went, but the midfielder stuck resolutely to his task as he attempted to keep the Hoops on the front foot.
The troublesome wind whirling around the stadium was creating as many problems for defenders as it was attackers.
Filipe Jota hung up a couple of crosses from the right that were simply swept away in the wayward conditions. This was clearly an evening for crosses being driven low into the box where there was a reasonable chance of a diversion off friend or foe.
THREE CHEERS…Alexandro Bernabei and Carl Starfelt congratulate goalscorer Daizen Maeda.
In the 50th minute, Hatate was ruled offside after placing the ball behind Walker. It was another contentious VAR ruling with the ball coming off Killie defender Ash Taylor before he put it in the net.
Hatate had been in an offside position in the build-up, but it could be argued he was played on by the deflection off an opponent.
Celtic didn’t get the decision. No-one was surprised.
Hatate tried again a couple of minutes later, but his 25-yard right-foot drive hit Wright and defelcted wide of the post.
Callum McGregor, like Mooy, was reasonably assured on the bar as the rain continued to lash down and the surface cut up.
On the hour, the Hoops claimed what looked a quite magnificent second goal – but once again VAR stepped in to rule it out and throw Killie a lifeline.
Hatate and McGregor were involved in the build-up before Kyogo Furuhashi slid the ball into front of Maeda who swept an unstoppable effort into the roof of the net.
The celebrations were cut short when new technology showed Kyogo’s heel was in an offside position and once again the Hoops could only speculate of what might have been.
In the 67th minute, there was a scare for Celtic when Armstrong slammed a drive into the sidenet after a ball in from the left had deflected into his path.
GLASGOW BELONGS TO ME…Daizen Maeda celebrates at rainswept Hampden.
Moments later, Josip Juranovic was just a foot or so off target with a low drive that had Walker beaten.
In the 74th minute, Ange Postecoglou made a triple change when he put on Liel Abada, Matt O’Riley and Giorgos Giakoumakis for Jota, Hatate and Kyogo.
A minute later, Hart produced another incredible stop as he launched himself to his left to turn away an eight-yard shot from Christian Dodge that looked netbound.
In the 81st minute, James Forrest, a five-time winner in the League Cup, replaced Maeda as Hoops continued the search for the second goal to kill the contest.
Only moments later, the evergreen Forrest slipped a pass in front of Mooy who whipped in a low shot that was parried round the right-hand post by Walker at full stretch.
In the 86th minute, McGregor created panic in the Killie penalty box when he drove in from the right. The ball fell to Bernabei on the left who picked out Abada, but his six-yard header flew just wide. He should have hit the target.
David Turnbull came on for the exhausted Mooy two minutes into stoppage-time.
It was a night for heroes and Mooy certainly played his part.
But it took a sweeping move from Forrest and Turnbull to open the door for Giakoumakis to claim the killer goal.
The veteran sent Turnbull scampering into the box with a neat through ball and he thumped in a low drive. Walker got down well to push the ball away, but Giakoumakis pounced from close range to drill the ball in from almost under the crossbar.
If it’s his final goal for Celtic, then it was a helluva way to say farewell.
TEAM: Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Bernabei; Mooy (sub: Turnbull 92), McGregor, Hatate (sub: O’Riley 74); Maeda (sub: Forrest 81), Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 74), Jota (sub: Abada 74).