DYNAMIC Daizen Maeda rescued Celtic with a hat-trick as the holders flirted with Scottish Cup disaster at Parkhead this afternoon.

The Japanese ace celebrated his 100th game for the Hoops with a timely trio against stubborn Livi who had fought back twice to level against the dithering hosts who looked as though they were about to shoot themselves in the foot.

Brendan Rodgers will be relieved his club are in tomorrow night’s semi-final ballot, but this was far from an acceptable display from his team who failed to inspire with too many individuals off the pace.

They toiled and struggled to get a hold of the game and it took until the 86th minute when Maeda got the third goal for the home fans to relax.

HANDS UP IF YOU’VE SCORED A HAT-TRICK…Daizen Maeda is the three-goal hero. 

Kyogo Furuhashi, who came on for the wasteful Adam Idah just after the hour mark, put a better complexion on the scoreline with a fourth deep in stoppage time, but the manager will know there is much work to be done with this set of players if his team are to achieve the target of a league and Cup double.

In an uninspiring first-half, a double salvo from Maeda eased the pressure, but it was far from an impressive opening stage for the hosts.

There was a lack of invention and penetration, despite the Hoops having massive possession against their Premiership strugglers who still looked dangerous on the break against a ponderous back four that missed the presence of Cameron Carter-Vickers.

In only four minutes there was a wake-up call for Rodgers’ side when a first-time drive from Ayo Obileye smacked off Joe Hart’s right-hand post, but referee Willie Collum had spotted a foul by Michael Nottingham on Liam Scales in the build-up and awarded a free-kick to the relieved home side.

Three minutes later, Maeda claimed the breakthrough goal after some steady build-up play with Tomoki Iwata, Alistair Johnston and Nicolas Kuhn involved before the German winger cut in from the right to sling a diagonal pass to the Japanese raider.

Maeda took the ball on his chest before stroking a low left-foot drive past the advancing Michael McGovern.

IT TAKES TWO…Daizen Maeda and Nicolas Kuhn celebrate the opening goal.

However, the Hoops’ good work was undone in the 12th minute after dreadful defensive work between Johnston and Welsh allowed a long pass to drop to Dan MacKay who had the freedom of the pitch to bring the ball under control, advance on Hart and then simply unleash an unstoppable angled effort high past the keeper.

The Hoops players had every right to look embarrassed at the ease with which the visitors had been invited back into the contest.

Three minutes later, Johnston knocked in an inviting low ball from the right, but Idah directed his shot straight at McGovern at the near post and the chance was gone.

It was one of three first-half opportunities missed by the on-loan Norwich City frontman who displayed a lack of awareness and control at the crucial moments.

The second goal duly arrived in the 22nd minute with Matt O’Riley heavily involved in the build-up. The stylish midfielder had a shot blocked from the edge of the box before following up with another full-blooded drive which was beaten away by McGovern.

The rebound fell perfectly for Maeda who dived full-length to head the ball towards the net as the former Celtic youngster tried desperately to push away from the net.

He was unsuccessful and the Hoops breathed a collective sigh of relief.

AT THE DOUBLE…Daizen Maeda snaps up a rebound to send a header beyond Michael McGovern.

In the 33rd minute, Welsh showed an alarming lack of awareness as a ball dropped over his head and Hart had to sprint from his goal to clear from Tete Yengi.

The second-half started with Idah missing from about four yards after a swift cut-back from Kuhn and then Bernardo failed to hit the target moments later from a good position.

In the 54th minute, Celtic’s lack of cutting edge caught up with them when O’Riley was slow to bring a pass from Welsh under control and was robbed by Jamie Brandon who set Yengi clear.

O’Riley tried to redtify the situation, as he raced to get between the Aussie frontman and Hart, but the Livi striker did well to carve an opening before whipping an angled drive wide of the helpless keeper to stun Parkhead.

There was another moment of anxiety for the hosts when Nottingham was allowed a free header smack in front of goal after a right-wing free-kick delivery, but Hart superbly deflected the effort to safety.

In the 61st minute, Rodgers was forced to withdraw the ineffective Idah and Bernardo and send on Kyogo and Daniel Kelly.

James Forrest joined them in the 76th minute as he came on for Kuhn who looked to be out of steam.

Celtic huffed and puffed with little ingenuity, but with extra-time looming in the 86th minute, Tomoki Iwata played a neat one-two with Johnston, sizzled a cross to the far post and there was countryman Maeda to tuck the ball behind the stranded McGovern.

MAKE MINE A TREBLE…Daizen Maeda fires in to make it 3-2 for Celtic.

Maeda blew the chance of a fourth goal when he clattered one off the crossbar from six yards before Kyogo had the final say when he sped away onto a headed pass from Forrest to slot in No.4.

The Japanese striker was flagged offside, but VAR showed it could get things right when it showed the goal was valid and the holders were allowed to book their place in the semi-final draw.

But this was far from the sort of performance expected of the team that completed the treble last season.

TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Welsh, Scales, Taylor; Iwata, O’Riley, Bernardo (sub: Kelly 61); Kuhn (sub: Forrest 76), Idah (sub: Kyogo 61), Maeda.

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