SO, they cheered when they heard the draw, did they? Not much smiling in the away dressing room at Hampden after the Scottish Cup semi-final this afternoon.

The joke was on Sevco Rangers when Celtic ruthlessly crushed their resistance, nonchalantly swept them aside and stretched their unbeaten sequence in this fixture to 10, winning eight and drawing two, over the past two seasons.

Brendan Rodgers’ side certainly had the last laugh as they edged towards a historic double treble.

The League Cup is in the tophy cabinet, three points are required for the seventh successive title and now only Motherwell stand between the Hoops and unprecedented success in the Scottish Cup Final on May 19.

After the early moments in this lop-sided confrontation, it was all too obvious which team was going to emerge victorious – and it wasn’t the Govan mob who roared in joy when they heard the draw. Mind you, they were on a high that afternoon – they had just beaten Championship outfit Falkirk in the previous round of the tournament.

MIGHTY MOUSSA…Celtic’s French striker terrorised the Rangers rearguard.

Tom Rogic got the opener, Callum McGregor added the second before the interval and then the French double-act of Moussa Dembele and Olivier Ntcham rolled in two stick-on penalty-kicks to bring the curtain down on two years of happiness against the Ibrox men. And you just know there is more to come, don’t you?

Their cause wasn’t helped when young centre-back Ross McCrorie was ordered off when he conceded the spot-kick that led to the third goal.

Dembele, who rag-dolled the opposition until he was replaced 11 minutes from time by Leigh Griffiths, was hauled back, pushed and tripped and there was no alternative for referee Bobby Madden but to flash a straight red card.

By then, though, the game was blown and Celtic were on easy street, well in control and the opposition, so gleeful only last month, were chasing green-and-white shadows.

If it was Graeme Murty’s idea to attempt to intimidate Scott Brown, it backfired spectacularly. The Hoops skipper was never short of company with Graham Dorrans, Greg Docherty and Andy Halliday hovering around, but it meant little to the Hoops’ onfield leader. He sauntered, strolled and sparked his way through this encounter.

The champions put down a marker in the fifth minute when Dembele smacked a right-foot shot off the woodwork before an Ibrox player had hardly been allowed a kick of the ball.

Powerhouse Ntcham, that wonderful combination of skill and strength and so impressive again against the Ibrox side, collected a pass from Mikael Lustig on the right and delicately curled an inviting cross into the danger zone.

Dembele got in before the hesitatant McCrorie to get a toe to the ball, but, unfortunately, his effort thumped against Wes Foderingham’s left-hand post and bounced to safety.

Then, in the space of a few minutes, Dembele was crowded out and Ntcham was wasteful with a 20-yard effort after working his way into a good position.

The Ibrox back lot were living dangerously as Foderingham flapped wildly at a McGregor right-wing corner-kick in the 21st minute and only succeeded in presenting the Hoops with another set-play from the opposite wing.

Once again, McGregor was the provider with another tantalising cross, this time to the near post. Dedryck Boyata’s timing was perfect in racing into space, but he fluffed his header and the chance was missed.

GOAL No.1…Tom Rogic is surrounded by a posse of defenders, but he
still slots in the breakhrough effort. 

Something had to give and Rogic – who else? – duly supplied the breakthrough goal in the 22nd minute. The entire manoeuvre to present the ball to the feet of the Aussie, who has the delightful habit of scoring crucial goals against the Govan outfit, was breathtakingly patient.

Lustig threw a right-wing shy to Brown who gave it back to the Swede who returned it to his skipper. While all this way going on, there was movement up front in the Hoops frontline.

The right-back then slung a peach of a pass forward and Dembele’s touch was that of an angel as he plucked it out of the air and placed it in front of James Forrest.

The winger thrust a pass to the manacingly lurking Rogic who feinted to his left, bamboozled the unfortunate McCrorie, moved the ball to his right and then swept a wicked low drive away from the diving Foderingham.

Two minutes later, Rogic passed up an easier opportunity when Forrest and Dembele combined to set him free, but, on this occasion, he tamely hit the ball into the keeper’s arms.

On the half-hour mark, Lustig picked up a needless booking when he miscontrolled a pass and then hauled back Jamie Murphy. The same match official administered the identical punishment in the recent match at Pittodrie before producing red. The defender realised he would have to tread carefully for the remaining hour.

GOAL No.2…Callum McGregor calmly sidefoots the ball home as Graham Dorrans
gets a close-up view.

In the 38th minute, it was all over as a contest when McGregor was presented with the second goal following a gift from Russell Martin, probably still traumatised by the positivity and pace of Dembele.

Brown knocked a ball in front of Kieran Tierney on the left and he hit a cross into the danger zone. The on-loan Norwich defender could only place a half-hit clearance into the path of the smooth midfielder and he drilled a right-foot effort wide of the exposed Foderingham.

Murty, looking more and more like the unfortunate rabbit in the car headlights, hauled off Halliday and replaced him with Josh Windass. There followed a verbal volley from the unhappy Gers midfielder as he made his way to the stand.

Dorrans was extremely fortunate to escape with a booking following a wild lunge that just missed McGregor as he raced away as Celtic once again changed defence into attack. Had he connected, he would have had to go, no argument.

But McCrorie did invite the referee to reach for the red card when he knocked over Dembele in an unruly tussle in the 52nd minute.

The Frenchman, returning to the form that had him rated in the £40million bracket, regained his composure sufficiently to chip the ball into the net as the Gers keeper took off for his left.

It was a delightful piece of impudence from a player who looks to have regained his confidence at the right stage of the campaign.

GOAL No.3…Moussa Dembele’s cheeky chip from the spot brings the Hampden house down.

Murty responded to McCrorie’s dismissal by putting on Bruno Alves for Daniel Candeias and the Portuguese winger showed his displeasure, too, after getting the hook. In the circumstances, he would have been forgiven for throwing his arms round the neck of his manager in gratitude at being allowed to leave the field of battle.

Strangely, the Ibrox side then had two splendid opportunities to score – and they thwarted twice by extraordinary saves from Craig Gordon.

The first came in the 54th minute when James Tavernier sent a deep cross into the box and Alfredo Morelos was allowed a free header smack in front of goal, but the veteran keeper athletically threw himself to his left to turn the ball for a corner.

From the deadball effort, Alves powered in  a header, but once more the keeper leapt to thouch the ball to safety.

Five minutes later, with Celtic easing off, Lustig miskicked a clearance that arced beyond Gordon and hit the post before bouncing out to Morelos. The Colombian drove it straight back in and the grounded shotstopper deflected it way from the net and Brown cleaned up. Lustig’s folly was very reminiscent of his own goal in the Motherwell game at Fir Park earlier in the season. (Memo to Swede: The opposition goal is the one that does not have Craig Gordon standing in it.)

GOAL No.4…Oliver Ntcham shows anything Moussa can do, he can, too, with an expert job from the spot.

On the hour mark, Forrest, who has never scored against the Ibrox outfit, missed a great chance to break that duck to smitherweens when Ntcham released him with a neat pass in the box. The touchline star sent a shot spinning past the far upright, but he will know he should have done so much better.

A minute later, Rogic went off to rousing applause and on came Scott Sinclair to give the opposition something else to think about.

Brown and Morelos were then yellow-carded after a shoving match which appeared to be the Ibrox frontman’s main concern on this particular afternoon.

In the 74th minute, Patrick Roberts was introduced for Forrest and five minutes later Dembele went off with Leigh Griffiths making an appearance.

In between, Ntcham had put Celtic four goals ahead when Jason Holt clattered Roberts in the 78th minute and once again a penalty-kick award was inevitable.

Dembele stepped aside to allow his French pal to display his skills from 12 yards and he struck the ball unerringly into Foderingham’s right-hand corner.

The last booking was for Tavernier for pulling back the troublesome McGregor and the Scotland international could have made it five three minutes from the end, but his aim was out and the ball lifted over the bar.

The only cheering that was done in the dressing rooms afterwards came from the one that contained the players who are one game away from history.

No joking!

CQN Man of the Match: Moussa Dembele

TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Ajer, Boyata, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham; Forrest (sub: Roberts 74), Rogic (sub: Sinclair 61), McGregor; Dembele (sub: Griffiths 79).


THE LAST POST…Leigh Griffiths leaves a little memento of a happy day at Hampden. All pictures: Geo.

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