Aberdeen 0 Celtic 4 Mulgrew 49, Ledley 57, Commons pen 63, Maloney 84 Referee: W Collum Attendance: 30,381
A YEAR after he experienced despair and humiliation at Hampden, the only slight disappointment Neil Lennon might have felt at the national stadium yesterday is that his Celtic team will not play Aberdeen again this season.
Their five-match series against the Pittodrie club concluded with another convincing victory, taking their goal tally against the Dons for the campaign to 21. There was mitigation for Craig Brown's men on this occasion, the contentious 18th-minute dismissal of defender Andrew Considine severely diminishing their prospects of reaching their club's first Scottish Cup final since 2000.
Celtic initially made hard work of making both their technical and numerical superiority count, Anthony Stokes failing to convert the penalty kick which came along with Considine's red card. But once Charlie Mulgrew made the breakthrough four minutes into the second half, Celtic's place in the domestic showpiece fixture for the first time in four years was never really in doubt. It was a form of redemption for Lennon, beaten by Ross County at the semi-final stage last season while interim manager. He now has his sights firmly fixed on a double dose of silverware this year as he looks to return to Hampden to face Motherwell in the 21 May final with his squad as the newly-crowned SPL champions.
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While Celtic may well have gone on to win the tie regardless, Brown will ponder just how his team might have performed had they retained a full complement of players. For before Considine was sent off, Aberdeen had looked bright, purposeful and certainly determined to try and make up for their previous capitulations at the hands of Lennon's men this season.
They traded excellent scoring chances with Celtic in that opening period. The profligate Stokes headed a fine Kris Commons cross wide from close range, while Scott Vernon would feel he should have done better than nod over when well served by the lively Sone Aluko.
Just as the match appeared poised to be closely fought, however, came Collum's decision to show Considine a straight red card for his foul on Gary Hooper just inside the penalty area. Smart play from Scott Brown and Beram Kayal had created the opening and there could be no disputing Collum's award of a penalty kick, Considine clearly tripping the Celtic striker.
As Hooper's touch had directed the ball towards the advancing Langfield, it was certainly debatable whether Considine's offence had denied Celtic a clear goalscoring opportunity. Collum thought so and Considine had to trudge off, as he had done early on in Aberdeen's 3-0 SPL defeat against Celtic at Pittodrie in February.
Stokes, as on that occasion, passed up the chance to exact further punishment on the Dons, his unconvincingly struck spot-kick saved by Jamie Langfield diving to his right. Despite Aberdeen managing to avoid falling behind at that stage, however, the task facing them was now ominously daunting. Derek Young was shuffled inside to form a new central defensive pairing with Zander Diamond in a 4-4-1 formation now simply focused on trying to keep Celtic at bay. They managed to do so until half-time, as much due to their own resilience as to the slack work of their opponents. With Stokes enduring a wretched afternoon in front of goal, Celtic's passing also lacked sharpness and accuracy in the first 45 minutes. Aberdeen might even have snatched the unlikeliest of leads before the break, Chris Maguire managing only to head straight at Fraser Forster from close range after being played in by Rob Milsom's fine ball.
Lennon was entitled to demand more from his team when he addressed them during the interval and they provided the kind of response he was looking for. Hooper and Stokes cut the Aberdeen defence apart with a slick exchange of passes and this time it was the English half of Celtic's Anglo-Irish strike pairing who was frustrated by a fine Langfield stop, the goalkeeper blocking a close range shot at his left hand post.
Aberdeen's resistance was broken just four minutes into the second half, however. Milsom conceded a free-kick in a wide right position, some 30 yards from goal, with a late challenge on Kayal. Mulgrew, whose set-piece delivery in the first half had been substandard, whipped the ball in with pace and swerve this time. Stokes, his intended target, failed to make contact with the ball but Langfield was unable to react in time as it flew beyond his right hand into the corner of the net.
Even with 41 minutes remaining, there was already a sense that the game was up for Aberdeen. They did put the ball in the net in the 56th minute, Maguire's effort correctly disallowed for offside, but just a minute later found themselves 2-0 down. Celtic, now playing with far greater pace and purpose, stretched their opponents through smart work from Emilio Izaguirre and Stokes on the left, the Irishman cutting the ball back for Joe Ledley to steer a first-time left-foot shot beyond Langfield from around 14 yards.
When Celtic were awarded their second penalty of the afternoon six minutes later, Young needlessly bringing down Stokes, responsibility from the spot was passed to Commons who made a firm case for retaining the role on a permanent basis when he emphatically sent Langfield the wrong way to make it 3-0. It could have been even worse for Aberdeen, Commons and Hooper both missing simple chances. They were forced to settle for just one more, substitute Shaun Maloney tapping in from close range with six minutes left after Brown and Mark Wilson had forced the opening.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Kris Commons scored from the spot
Jamie Langfield (Aberdeen)
Despite the concession of four goals, the Aberdeen goalkeeper was in admirable form. Aside from keeping out Anthony Stokes' penalty kick, Langfield made a handful of other fine saves which prevented the scoreline once again approaching 9-0 territory for his team.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Young (Vujadinovic 65), Diamond, Considine, Smith; Magennis (Blackman 61), Jack, Milsom, Aluko; Maguire; Vernon (Paton 78). Subs not used: Howard, Robertson.
Celtic: Forster, Wilson, Rogne, Mulgrew, Izaguirre; Brown, Kayal (McCourt 61), Ledley (Maloney 70), Commons; Stokes, Hooper (Majstorovic 80). Subs not used: Zaluska, Forrest.