CELTIC were denied their third successive victory over their city rivals when Rabbi Matondo netted a stoppage-time leveller in a frantic six-goal stalemate at Ibrox on April 7.

Brendan Rodgers’ men had led twice and were 2-0 up at the interval after strikes from Daizen Maeda and Matt O’Riley, but their opponents were gifted a controverial penalty-kick as they grasped at the lifeline.

Ten minutes into the second-half, James Tavernier netted from the spot after a VAR intervention and and it remained that way until Abdallah Sima levelled with a deflection off Callum McGregor in the 86th minute.

Just over a minute later, though, Adam Idah, a substitute for Kyogo Furuhashi, flashed No.3 behind Jack Butland.

THE FAST SHOW…Daizen Maeda puts Celtic ahead inside a minute at Ibrox.

That looked like being the goal to get the job done, but three minutes into the eight minutes of added-on time, some atrocious defending from Yang Hyun-jun allowed Matondo to come in from the left onto his strong right foot to leave Joe Hart helpless.

The hosts took the kick-off, but, remarkably, found themselves a goal behind after exactly 21 SECONDS!

It was a lightning-swift break that exposed Tavernier when he was slow to react to a long ball downfield from Hart.

No immediate danger threatened, but the determined Maeda refused to give up the chase and the Ibrox skipper paid a heavy price when he dallied with his clearance.

PICK IT OUT…Matt O’Riley dinks his penalty-kick down the centre of the goal as Jack Butland takes off to his left for Celtic’s second goal in the 3-3 draw.

The defender attempted to whip the ball to safety, but only succeeded in thumping his effort against the Japanese speedster and the ricochet zipped past the stranded Butland and into the far left-hand corner of the net.

The ground was bathed in silence as the Hoops attacker whooped with joy before his team-mates joined in the celebrations.

In the 33rd minute, the champions were awarded a VAR-assisted penalty-kick when it was clear Connor Goldson has used his right elbow to clear a right-wing cross from Nicolas Kuhn.

Referee John Beaton missed the offence, but Nick Walsh, the man in front of the multi-screens, instructed his colleague to review the incident.

Images proved conclusively that there was contact with an illegal part of the centre-back’s arm and there was no option but to point to the spot.

O’Riley was the calmest man in the vicinity as he stepped up to take the award and nonchalantly chip the ball past Butland who took off for his left.

Ten minutes into the second-half, Beaton booked Fabio Silva for diving in the box after yet another piece of simulation from the on-loan winger.

JOY BHOYS…Matt O’Riley and Nicolas Kuhn celebrate Celtic’s second goal.

However, the match official was told to have a second look on the monitor and there was surprise and dismay for the Hoops when the yellow card was scrapped and the referee awarded a penalty-kick after the challenge from Alistair Johnston.

Tavernier proved once again that practice makes perfect with a drive into the roof of Hart’s net.

Near the end of regulation time, Philippe Clement’s team levelled through a deflected effort from Sima before Idah restored the Hoops’ lead. Then came the alarming moment Yang allowed Matondo to take aim and fire for the equaliser.

When the smoke of battle cleared, the champions held a one-point advantage over their nearest challengers who had a game in hand.

The following weekend proved pivotal in Celtic’s pursuit of their twelfth crown in 13 years. Rodgers’ men made no mistake in a 3-0 home win over St Mirren to race four points clear while Rangers were due to travel to Ross County 24 hours later.

The Hoops had to wait until the second-half for a breakthrough against the Paisley side and it arrived with a superb strike from Reo Hatate in the 51st minute. Kyogo Furuhashi nodded in a second and Idah brought down the curtain with another header in the 88th minute.

The following day, Clement’s team nosedived to a deserved 3-2 loss in Dingwall, despite the aid of a VAR-assisted spot-kick for Tavernier.

NUMBER ONE…Nicolas Kuhn fires past Dons keeper Kelle Roos to make it 1-1.

NUMBER TWO…James Forrest thumps the Hoops into a 2-1 lead. 

NUMBER THREE…Matt O’Riley sweeps in a third as Luis Palma looks on.

Celtic were involved in their second 3-3 confrontation in a fortnight when they lived dangerously in their Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden.

The holders eventually booked a place in the showpiece showdown on the iconic date of May 25 after triumphing 6-5 on penalty-kicks where veteran netminder Hart missed AND saved a spot-kick.

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

The Dons took the tie to extra-time when Ester Sokler netted in the 90th minute, but Matt O’Riley handed the advantage back to the Parkhead side in the first period.

Amazingly, the dithering Hoops back lot once again fell asleep in the fading moments when Angus MacDonald scored to take the tie to penalty-kicks.

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

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

However, Ryan Duncan broke the scoring sequence when he clattered the left-hand post. Hart, with six games to play before calling it a day, stepped up to take the fifth kick.

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

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

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 placed his effort into the corner and then it was all down to Killian Phillips.

The Irishman fired low to Hart’s left, but the 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.

An eventful month came to a half with a double salvo from the evergreen Forrest giving the champions a 2-1 win over Dundee at Dens Park as Rodgers’ players kept their eye on the ball.


April 7: Premiership: Rangers 3 CELTIC 3
Maeda, O’Riley (pen), Idah
April 13: Premiership: CELTIC 3 St Mirren 0
Hatate, Kyogo, Idah
April 20: Scottish Cup Semi-final: CELTIC 3 Aberdeen 3 (AET)
Celtic win 6-5 on pens
Kuhn, Forrest, O’Riley
April 28: Premiership: Dundee 1 CELTIC 2
Forrest (2)
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss Diary of an Epic Season: May 
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