IT WAS more of a stagger than a swagger as Celtic booked their Scottish Cup Final place at Hampden in a month’s time.

The holders toiled for lengthy spells in their efforts to see off a battling Aberdeen side who put the character of the Parkhead players to the test.

Brendan Rodgers watched his side concede a goal in exactly one minute 56 seconds and then two more at the end of the regulation 90 minutes and extra-time.

It was far from convincing before the outcome was settled by Joe Hart’s spot-kick save from Killian Phillips to put the Hoops through 6-5 on penalties.

There are genuine concerns from some quarters about the stamina of the champions to display the strength and power required to complete the campaign with a league and Cup double.

ALL SMILES…Maik Nawrock and Greg Taylor look relieved to get through at Hampden,

Rodgers’ side have five Premiership matches to face, starting with a trip to Dens Park on Sunday to take on rejuvenated Dundee. The curtain will come down at the national stadium on the iconic date of May 25 in the derby confrontation with Philippe Clement’s Ibrox outfit.

Defender Greg Taylor insists he and his team-mates are up for the silverware obstacle course and says: “I am hoping we will get stronger as we go on.

“I felt good during the 120 minutes. I wasn’t feeling leggy and I was ready to go. I am hoping we are in our prime and can sprint over that finishing line.”

Reflecting on the erratic from the side against the Pittodrie club, the Scotland international said: “It wasn’t for the faint-hearted, was it? I must have aged about 10 years.

“It was bonkers. It wasn’t how we would have wanted it in terms of making a poor start.

“We took control pretty soon after that and the aim was to get to the Final and that is what we managed to do. Both goals we lost were very similar. We could have defended things better as a team, definitely.”

BY THE LEFT…Greg Taylor in action against Aberdeen.

Taylor was grateful he was spared taking a penalty-kick and was ninth in the pecking order to accept responsibility from 12 yards.

The left-back watched Adam Idah, Luis Palma, Matt O’Riley and Paulo Bernardo sink their efforts behind Kelle Roos before Hart smacked his shot off the right-hand post. Alistair Johnston and Tomoki Iwata made no mistake in sudden death beofre the 37-year-old former England international made the save that propelled the team into the Hampden showpiece.

Taylor, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “It was Cameron Carter-Vickers then me in the shoot-out. I was down there near the bottom.

“It was nerve-wracking. When we took penalties during the week the standard was high. I had actually scored a couple and I felt confident. It is just the pressure of the situation.

“You know what is on the line and you care so much. You want to take the penalty, but I was doing the Moonwalk out there! I was grateful that a few others stepped forward.”

HAMPDEN HERO AND VILLAIN…Joe Hart accepts the acclaim at the end.
On a personal level, Taylor has put discussopns of a new contract on the backburner to concentrate solely on matters at hand as the team, with a three-point advantage, pursue their third successive title and eye their 42nd Scottish Cup.
The 26-year-old back-four operator added: “I have one year left, but there have been no talks. I have just been focused on finishing the season strongly. We will see what comes of it.
“I just want to do as well as I can for Celtic. There will always be competition and that is the focus of being a Celtic player. I just want to take care of these next six games and then everything else will take care of itself.”
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