CELTIC 3 ABERDEEN 3 (aet; 2-2 90 mins; 6-5 pens)

IT WAS extraordinary. It was excruciating.

But, once the smoke of a dramatic battle had cleared, Celtic have the exciting challenge of the Scottish Cup Final to look forward to on the iconic date of May 25.

Brendan Rodgers’ side twice allowed a spirited Aberdeen team back into the contest before Joe Hart played a remarkable role in the penalty-kick decider at the end of extra-time and a 3-3 stalemate.

The Hoops were far from convincing as they failed to take charge of a contest against a team that failed to claim a top-six finish in the Premiership.

THE EQUALISER…Nicolas Kuhn fires past Dons keeper Kelle Roos to make it 1-1.

Celtic had to come back from the loss of an early goal from Bojan Miovski to equalise with an effort from Nicolas Kuhn and then go ahead with a sweet drive from substitute James Forrest.

Some lamentable defending allowed the Pittodrie side to level through an unmarked Ester Sokler at the back post in the 90th minute, but Matt O’Riley handed the advantage back to the Parkhead side in the first period of extra-time.

Amazingly, the dithering Hoops back lot once again fell asleep in the fading moments of the added-on period when Angus MacDonald scored a replica goal at the far post to take the tie to penalty-kicks.

FORREST ON FIRE…Celtic’s evergreen winger thumps the Hoops into a 2-1 lead. 

MATT FINISH…midfielder Matt O’Riley sweeps in No.3 as Luis Palma looks on.

Adam Idah, Luis Palma, O’Riley and Paulo Bernardo tucked away the first four spot-kicks for Celtic while Jamie McGrath, Angus MacDonald and Sokler did likewise for the Dons.

However, Ryan Duncan broke the scoring sequence when he clattered Joe Hart’s left-hand post with his attempt from 12 yards.

The veteran keeper, who will quit the club in six games’ time, stepped up to take the fifth kick.

Hart knew a successful conversion would put the team through to the showpiece showdown against either Hearts or Philippe Clement’s Ibrox side next month.

Alas, the experienced campaigner hammered his kick against the right-hand upright and the Pittodrie side were thrown a lifeline.

Junior Hoilett gratefully accepted the opportunity to drill the ball in to the net to take the semi-final to sudden death.

KNOCK ON WOOD…Joe Hart wallops his penalty-kick past Kelle Roos – only to see the ball hit the post.

Alistair Johnston, Celtic’s Man of the Match by some distance, stroked in his kick while Jack Millen did likewise with his attempt.

Next up, Tomoki Iwata, with the most composed effort of the lot, placed his into the corner and then it was all down to Killian Phillips.

The Irishman fired low to Hart’s left, but the 37-year-old netminder displayed remarkable reflexes to get down and paw the ball away.

HARTSTOPPER…the Celtic keeper dives to foil Killian Phillips and put the holders into the May 25 Final.

In a heartbeat, Celtic were in the Scottish Cup Final, but the cheers from the fans were mixed with extreme relief.

This was far removed from a vintage performance from Celtic and that was not lost on Brendan Rodgers.

Judging by the expression on the face of the Irishman, who had just seen his unbeaten record at Hampden extended to 10 games, he was more than aware this was not an acceptable display from his players.

The inquest will come later, but for now the champions still have a league and Cup double target on the agenda.

All of a Celtic persuasion can be thankful – and relieved – for that fact.

TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Scales, Taylor; Hatate (sub: Bernardo 86), McGregor (sub: Iwata 62), O’Riley; Kuhn (sub: Palma 86), Kyogo (sub: Idah 70) and Yang (sub: Forrest 62, sub Nawrocki 118).







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