CELTIC 2 “RANGERS” 2
(After extra-time; “Rangers” win 5-4 on penalty-kicks)
RONNY DEILA completed the Hampden hat-trick from hell as Celtic lost their third Cup semi-final in two years.
The pressure is mounting on the Norwegian after yet another dreadful setback against the Championship side from Ibrox in this afternoon’s Scottish Cup confrontation.
The game was decided on penalty-kicks after two hours’ worth of football saw the Glasgow teams tied in a 2-2 stalemate.
Unbelievably, Celtic missed THREE spot-kicks with Tom Rogic failing to even hit the target with the seventh decisive kick which put their opponents into next month’s Cup Final.
Callum McGregor had already clattered an effort of the crossbar and Scott Brown capped a wretched afternoon with a weak effort that was far too close to keeper Wes Foderingham.
Craig Gordon saved from Nicky Clark after James Tavernier had sent his effort flying over the bar.
Charlie Mulgrew, Nir Bitton, Leigh Griffiths and Mikael Lustig all tucked their efforts safely into the net before Aussie international Rogic wildly thumped his effort off target.
That awful attempt just about summed up a lamentable performance from the champions-elect.
They’ve got no-one to blame but themselves for not burying their opponents long before the game even got close to extra-time.
A midfield lacking the ingenuity of big-game player Kris Commons, stuck on the subs’ bench throughout, allowed the Ibrox team to dictate large chunks of the first-half.
Brown was way off the pace and looked tired long before the end of 90 minutes. Stefan Johansen’s input was questionable, too, while Gary Mackay-Steven was largely anonymous for the 70 minutes he was on the pitch before finally being replaced by Callum McGregor.
Leigh Griffiths lacked support up front and Dedryck Boyata looked vulnerable before he limped off in the 25th minute by Erik Sviatchenko.
That provoked the question: Why did the Dane not start the game? If he was fit enough to sit on the bench, he must have been considered fit enough to play in the game. It was the waste of a substitution and that harmed Celtic late on with Bitton, Brown and Lustig looking in distress.
Celtic were given a scare as early as the sixth minute when a pass from Andy Halliday found Kenny Miller running clear of Mulgrew, who was slow to react to the danger. The striker’s swift shot was superbly pushed away by the sprawling Gordon.
There followed a procession of aimless passes that didn’t threaten the opposition’s back lot, with Brown and Bitton the main culprits.
And the Hoops skipper must still be wondering how he failed to score in the 10th minute when he was presented with an excellent opportunity.
A scramble in the box led to the ball dropping to the unmarked midfielder’s feet some 12 yards from goal. Inexplicably, he screwed the ball wide of the post.
That miss was punished only six minutes later when Celtic fell a goal behind. Again, Brown played an unwitting role in setting it up for Miller.
Halliday played a ball in from the right and the captain swung a lazy boot at the ball. He managed to deflect it away from Mulgrew straight to Miller who swivelled quickly to blast a low drive wide of the exposed Gordon.
Deila’s men made an immediate response when a Patrick Roberts shot rebounded to Keiran Tierney, but he blasted wide from 18 yards.
Sviatchenko then came on for the toiling Boyata as Celtic attempted to up the pace. Roberts was crying out for the ball in acres of space on the right, but Bitton, annoyingly, made yet another bad choice and the chance was lost.
Craig Thomson flashed the first yellow of the day in the direction of Sviatchenko after a foul on Dean Shields in the 32nd minute.
A minute later, Roberts had one of the worst misses in Hampden history after a low drive from Griffiths bamboozled Foderingham low to his left.
The ball struck the inside of the psot, ran along the line and the on-loan Manchester City winger was presented with an open goal. Remarkably, he fired wide of the post from six yards. It looked easier to hit the net.
It continued in much the same manner until the half-time whistle. Celtic needed some words of wisdom from their manager at the interval to turn things around.
And, for the first 15 minutes or so of the second period, the Hoops, as expected, controlled the game and deservedly levelled in the 49th minute.
Roberts swung in a perfectly-flighted left-wing corner-kick and Sviatchenko rose majestically to thunder a header into the roof of the net with Foderingham static on his line.
Three minutes later, Roberts and Sviatchenko almost staged an action replay with another setplay, but on this occasion the keeper scrambled the ball away at his left-hand post.
Still Celtic surged forward and Griffiths was wasteful in the 59th minute when he was picked out by Johansen. The 37-goal striker rushed his shot and fired widly off target.
Dom Ball was next to go into referee Thomson’s book after holding back Griffiths just before the hour mark and Mackay-Stevens’ terrible afternoon was typified by a cross from the left wing that soared high behind the opponents’ goal.
It was no surprise when the winger was taken off and replaced by McGregor in the 70th minute and five minutes later the toiling Johansen was yellow-carded for a robust challenge on Barrie McKay.
Nine minutes later, Rogic replaced the Norwegian as Deila tried to win the game inside the regulation 90 minutes.
And, after Tavernier had been booked for pulling down Roberts, the English teenager picked out Bitton with another neat free-kick.
With only one minute remaining, the Israeli back-headed the ball and his attempt beat the lunging Foderingham, but swept just wide of his left-hand post.
Six minutes into extra-time, Celtic were left raging at referee Thomson as yet another controversial decision from a match official in a semi-final went against them.
The whistler awarded “Rangers” a throw-in when the ball clearly came off Tavernier. Thomson’s assistant, a lot closer to the incident, signalled for a shy for Celtic, but he was ignored by his colleague.
It was taken quickly, Tavernier shoved a pass to McKay who, all too easily, jinked away from Brown before hitting a screamer high into Gordon’s top right-hand corner.
Once more, Celtic were asked to show their mettle and come back and, within a minute, they were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out, but Mulgrew’s effort was high, wide and horrible.
One minute after the turnaround, though, it was all-square again and huge praise had to go to Tierney who rounded Nicky Law before picking out Rogic in the penalty box.
The midfielder didn’t hesitate as he first-timed an immaculate low drive in at the far post.
Halliday, who had been crunching into tackles all day, at last was booked for one foul too many, this time on Rogic.
The fates conspired again against the Hoops with just one minute remaining of the extra period.
Griffiths rifled a wicked 25-yard free-kick towards Foderingham’s top right-hand corner of the net. The keeper might have got the faintest of touches as it walloped off the underside of the crossbar.
Then the ball came down, hit the ground shotstopper on the back and bounced past the post for a corner-kick. It could so easily have rebounded into the net.
The dreaded penalty-kicks then came into play and McGregor, Brown and Rogic failed from 12 yards to bring the curtain down on another miserable Hampden outing.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata (sub: Sviatchchenko 25), Mulgrew, Tierney; Brown, Bitton; Roberts, Johansen (sub: Rogic 84), Mackay-Steven (sub: McGregor 70); Griffiths.