Celtic manager Ronny Deila criticised his players for being “weak” in the League Cup semi-final defeat by Ross County at Hampden Park, which killed talk of a treble for his team.
The cup holders had to play for 77 minutes at Hampden with ten men after referee Craig Thomson sent off Efe Ambrose for the challenge which allowed the Highlanders to get back into the tie from the penalty spot. Two second-half goals clinched their place in the final against Hibernian on 13 March.
“We’re very disappointed,” Deila said. “It’s tough to play [for so long] with ten men and of course we could have done that better. We have to show more character when we get something against us. We are a little bit too weak and give away things too easy.”
The manager was asked if, in the wake of this defeat, he was worried about his job. “I’m not worried about anything,” he said. “I have big ambitions and I’m as disappointed as everyone else. The cup is tough. You saw that last year [when Celtic lost at the semi-final stage in the Scottish Cup to Inverness Caley Thistle] and now this year as well.
“We started very well, created three or four good chances and scored a beautiful goal. We had everything in our hands and then the red card changed everything.”
He thought a penalty for Ambrose’s foul on Alex Schalk was the correct decision but was less clear on whether it merited red. “The touch [by Schalk] was very long and I’m not sure he was going to reach it. I think Craig [Gordon] had quite good control of it. I can see it’s a very hard decision for the ref to say red or not and I will not blame him. But it was too easy to give away a penalty like that.” Ambrose had played well recently, Deila said, and was “a little bit unlucky” in the incident. “But also he could have been more aware of what was happening.” Football was about mistakes, Deila added – “and learning from them”.
Deila said he took responsibility for the defeat, which continues a club sequence of cup setbacks at the national stadium. “Done is done,” he added. Now the club has to turn their attention to a vital game at Aberdeen on Wednesday in their quest for the championship. “It’s a very important game as well and we have to look forward to that,” he said.
County boss Jim McIntyre was “absolutely delighted” with the win which takes the Highlanders to their first-ever League Cup final. “It’s a fantastic result although it will mean a whole lot more if we can go on and win the cup,” he said. “Our chairman [Roy MacGregor] has already had one special day at Hampden [the 2010 Scottish Cup final] and we were determined to try and give him another one.”
The Staggies went one-nil down when Gary Mackay-Steven struck after just 26 seconds – “the worst possible start,” added McIntyre. “We set up to be hard to break down and it was a really poor goal to give away.” He praised his goalkeeper Scott Fox for keeping them in the tie in the opening period and also Martin Woods for his composure with the penalty. Paul Quinn, another of their goalscorers, had delivered a gutsy performance while short on fitness and a number of others were “running on empty” by the end.
Did he think his side would be favourites against Hibs? “Not really. Hibs are rightly getting plaudits at the moment and they showed their qualities against St Johnstone in their semi. They’re packed with Premiership-standard players and I fully expect them to come up this year. Stubbsy [Alan Stubbs] has done a fantastic job and there are similarities between the clubs, I think. We both came in around the same time and had to strip a squad and build a new one. It should be a good final.”