CELTIC 2 SAME OLD ALLOA 0
THE anticipated annihilation of Alloa didn’t materialise at Parkhead, but the main thing is that Celtic are in tomorrow night’s League Cup semi-final draw.
What should have been a saunter became a stutter as the gallant First Division part-timers put in the performance of a lifetime.
However, two goals in the last seven minutes from James Forrest and Moussa Dembele finally got the job done.
The breakthrough strike came in the 83rd minute as the Hoops broke forward after Scott Brown had broken up a rare surge forward by their opponents. The skipper picked out substitute Ryan Christie, on for Jozo Simunovic, and the young Highlander swept a devastating pass wide to Forrest on the opposite flank.
He still had a lot of work to do as Alloa raced back to pack their penalty area as they had done so diligently and frustratingly all evening. Forrest, though, was not to be denied on this occasion.
The attacker sped across the 18-yard line, evading three desperate challenges before he whirled to slam a left-foot drive low past the heroic Neil Parry, the visitors’ goalkeeper, who could do little as the ball flashed in at his post.
The sigh of relief around Celtic Park was audible. The thought of their rivals – like Caley Thistle on Sunday – weathering the storm and getting something late in the contest must have been on everyone’s minds.
Forrest opened the way for Dembele to score the killer second a minute from time. He had been shackled for most of the night with little room for manoeuvre, but, with the clock ticking down, he raced past two defenders and simply walloped an unstoppable right-foot effort high into the roof of the net.
The first-half was a procession towards Parry’s goal, but, remarkably, Celtic had nothing to show for their efforts mainly because a lot of their finishing was wasteful and wayward.
Tom Rogic, for instance, had three attempts that all missed the target when, on another day, the Aussie might have expected at least a couple of goals. Certainly, he should have hit the target on all three occasions.
Kieran Tierney, so unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet in the 2-2 draw in Inverness at the weekend, was out of luck again in the 29th minute with a stunning left-foot drive that crashed against the face of the crossbar and rebounded to safety.
Dembele was slow, too, to react to opportunities in the box and had the worst miss of the lot in the 13th minute.
Patrick Roberts and Mikael Lustig combined on the right before the Swede set up the French striker with a neat pass inside. Unfortunately, Dembele’s tame 12-yard effort went straight into the arms of the grateful goalkeeper.
There was another occasion when Dembele had a close-range shot blocked, it rolled to Forrest and his effort was parried by the keeper who was lying on the ground.
In the 38th minute, Lustig again charged down the right before switching the ball inside and Forrest’s aim was out again as he hit the ball wide of Parry’s right-hand post.
Moments later, the winger had another go and this time the ball flew hopelessly past the other upright.
Craig Gordon, back in the team after sitting out the last four games, got his first touch of the ball in the 15th minute when he dived to his right to push away a swerving 20-yard drive from Spence.
And there was controversy three minutes from the interval when the comeback keeper clashed with Spence outside the box as the Alloa attacker raced with Kolo Toure onto a long pass from Jim Goodwin.
It was an ungainly challenge and referee Alan Muir was content to issue a yellow card, but it was a heart-in-the-mouth moment the Hoops didn’t need.
And Gordon was in action just before the turnaround when ex-Celtic youngster Callum Waters flighted over a free-kick from the right that was headed goalwards by Ben Gordon at the far post. However, his namesake was alert to the danger and held the ball firmly just under the crossbar.
Brendan Rodgers decided to freshen things up at the interval and put on Scott Sinclair for Roberts and once again the Hoops took the initiative.
Sinclair almost introduced himself to proceedings with a spectacular right-footer from outside the box, but the ball flew inches wide of the upright with the keeper well beaten.
Next up Simunovic put one in the crowd, Sinclair blazed wildly over from a great position and Rogic set up Dembele, but Parry raced from his goal to bravely block the attempt.
The parade continued all the way through the half. Brown headed wide from a left-wing corner-kick, Stuart Armstrong was off target before Parry denied Forrest with a plunge to his right to push away a low effort destined for the far corner.
Moments later, Parry tipped a Forrest shot low past his left-hand post as Celtic turned the screw. The barrier-breaking goal had to arrive and Forrest duly obliged in the 83rd minute and Dembele doubled the advantage.
Manchester City are in town next midweek. The Celtic players can expect some shooting practice between now and then!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Toure, Simunovic (sub: Christie 70), Tierney; Brown, Rogic (sub: Sviatchenko 85); Roberts (sub: Sinclair 46), Armstrong, Forrest; Dembele.