THIS game exploded in the fading moments when blundering referee Don Robertson awarded the Highlanders a non-existent penalty-kick.

Liam Boyce tucked away the award to make it all-square and then Celtic skipper Scott Brown, clearly frustrated by the preposterous decision by the match official, saw red when he clattered into the goalscorer as the Hoops swarmed forward in search for the winner.

It could be a costly tackle from the midfielder who had been superb up until his rash moment in stoppage time.

The referee couldn’t get to his pocket quickly enough to dismiss the captain.

Ropey Robertson must take his share of the blame for the unruly scenes at Dingwall.

His decision to gift the home side a spot-kick, aided by his assistant, triggered off the anger among the players.

Dutch substitute Alex Schalk clearly dived as he anticipated a challenge from Erik Sviatchenko. However, the Dane cleverly stepped aside and made absolutely no contact, as TV pictures emphasised.

Cheating Schalk went down, though, and instead of getting a yellow card for an obvious dive, the referee inexplicably pointed to the spot.

The Celtic players couldn’t believe it and Jozo Simunovic was immediately booked for his protest.

Sviatchenko raced to the linesman, but was clearly wasting his time.

Brown had words with Schalk who almost looked embarrassed.

Boyce, though, kept his cool before drilling the ball to Craig Gordon’s right as the keeper took off for his left.

And then came the final insult when Brown, admittedly rashly, dived in to a challenge on Boyce. Only moments before, though, he had taken a sneaky dull one from Schalk.

The County sub will surely not get away with his blatant cheating when video evidence is taken into consideration. He must be looking at a ban of some sorts.

When the dust of battle settled, Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run had stretched to 40, but there were no celebrations from Brendan Rodgers or his players.

In a word, they were robbed by another referee whose decision-making would not hold up to the merest scrutiny.

It must be hoped there are no repeat of such crazy, nonsensical awards in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden a week today.

The Hoops had to wait until the 34th minute for the breakthrough goal, but it was well worth the patience of the players and fans.

Brown picked out Scott Sinclair on the left with a breathtaking sweeping crossfield pass that dropped at the Englishman’s feet with devastating accuracy.

The attacker moved effortlessly past two challenges infield before touching it onto Tom Rogic who, in turn, swept it wide to James Forrest.

The winger kocked a pass back to the Aussie who nonchalantly stroked the ball wide to Kieran Tierney.

The left-back took a touch, steadied himself and then lashed a magnificent low drive from 25 yards that thumped into the net at Scott Fox’s left-hand post with the keeper left motionless.

It was a goal for the connoisseur and one the champions so richly deserved after dominating proceedings right from the off.

Tierney had earlier served notice in the 18th minute he was in the mood to get on the scoresheet after he had been set up by Callum McGregor.

The 19-year-old defender didn’t hesitate as he zipped in a vicious effort from outside the box, but on this occasion Fox was alert to the threat and got down well at his right-hand post to smother the shot. 

Earlier, Rogic, eager to be involved in the third of his comeback encounters, walloped one high and wide as the Parkhead men looked for an early goal.

In the seventh minute, Stuart Armstrong produced a left-wing corner-kick routine straight from the training ground.

The playmaker picked out McGregor on his own about 15 yards outside the packed penalty box.

Unfortunately, the midfielder skied his attempt at goal and the ball ended up closer to Dingwall Main Street than Fox’s goal.

There was a lot of good movement in the Hoops team and skipper Brown was instrumental in just about everything they produced.

It was another high-energy display from the 31-year-old engine-room operator and the Highlanders couldn’t design a way to close him down as he roamed around with purpose and menace.

It was such a shame his afternoon should end in the manner in which it did.

Five minutes after the turnaround, the Highlanders snatched the equaliser they did not deserve after being second best all day.

Ryan Dow curled over a left-wing cross, Sviatchenko got under the flight of the ball and Michael Gardyne got in behind him and ahead of Tierney to nod an effort goalwards from 12 yards.

Gordon stretched to his left, but was out of luck as the ball hit the underside of the bar and rebounded into the net.

Rodgers freshened up things after the 63rd-minute mark when he sent on Leigh Griffiths and Cristian Gamboa for Rogic and Dembele and, six minutes later he introduced Patrick Roberts for Forrest.

It looked as though the switch had worked when Roberts netted the second goal in the 78th minute after a moment of sublime skill.

The on-loan Manchester City winger nutmegged one defender, drove at goal and fired an angled shot through the legs of Marcus Fraser and low past Fox.

It looked as though Celtic were seeing the game out until the ridiculous interruption of referee Robertson and his diabolocal decision to hand the Highlanders a penalty and a point.

Now all eyes are on Hampden a week today. What can we expect from Willie Collum?

Surely, the champions deserve a fair opportunity to express their skills and then the better team will surely win on the day.

We can but hope.

TEAM: Gordon; Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong; Forrest (sub: Roberts 69), Rogic (sub: Gamboa 63), McGregor, Sinclair; Dembele (sub: Griffiths 63).

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