Ronny Deila: Semi-final loss toughest of my career

Emilio Izaguirre gets a yard on Dundee's Paul McGinn as Celtic returned to winning ways following Sunday's controversial defeat. Picture: PA
Emilio Izaguirre gets a yard on Dundee's Paul McGinn as Celtic returned to winning ways following Sunday's controversial defeat. Picture: PA
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RONNY Deila praised the Celtic supporters as well as the players after they helped lift their team at Dens Park last night following Sunday’s controversial Scottish Cup exit against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

A 2-1 win over Dundee restores Celtic’s eight-point lead at the top of the league and although the hosts cut the deficit at the end, Ronny Deila’s side were mostly in control.

He saluted his team’s fortitude so soon after their treble hopes were extinguished at Hampden Park in such painful fashion.

He described the loss to Inverness, particularly the manner of it, as his worst experience in football.

However, he expressed the hope that Inverness defender Josh Meekings, who faces an SFA hearing today after escaping censure for denying a goal-scoring chance with a blatant handball during the Highlands’ side’s 3-2 win on Sunday, can play in the final.

The defender has been offered a one-match Scottish Cup ban by the SFA compliance officer, which means he would miss the final next month if his appeal fails today.

“It does not help our situation at all,” said Deila. “I do not think he did it on purpose. It all happened so quickly and it was a clear red card and a penalty. I don’t think it is right for him to miss the match as you would want all the best players to play in the final. I would hope that the ban is overturned.”

Deila was glad of last night’s victory, which as well as leaving Celtic three wins away from securing the title, also helped him recover from his ‘worst experience in football’. The Norwegian said he had spent Sunday night and Monday “staring at the wall”. He added: “It was the toughest day of my career on Sunday. I have to admit that. It was very tough.

“We really wanted it [the treble] and we had a very good opportunity there. So Sunday and Monday was very tough. But now it has gone. I just want to keep winning games and get that league title to Celtic Park. Then we have done a good season.”

Last night’s victory was earned through an opener from Gary Mackay-Steven and a stunning free-kick by Virgil Van Dijk. Although Jim McAlister pulled a goal back for Dundee near the end, Celtic were worth their victory at a ground where they have not lost since 1988.

“I am very pleased with the performance,” said Deila. “I am proud of them. It was tough, and that’s many games in a row now, plus 120 minutes on Sunday and the disappointment as well. But I was ready for this game and we won it, and we deserved to win it as well.

“I was very pleased with the players and with the fans – they were unbelievable today. They were behind the team and lifted us. It was better than playing at home almost. We are in a good position. We have to keep on performing and winning.”

Dundee manager Paul Hartley was aggrieved by Celtic’s first goal, which was scored after referee Calum Murray brought back play after an initial advantage call.

“I thought we were good,” he said. “We just lacked a little cutting edge. If we’d scored the goal 10 or 15 minutes previously we’d have had them worried. Two set-pieces have done us in. I thought we worked well, we were well organised and there was good discipline to our performance. Celtic have quality throughout their team.

“There were a couple of decisions that we weren’t happy with. Some decisions were quite bizarre.” In the Championship, Hibs picked up three points with a 3-1 win at Livingston, bouncing back from their Scottish Cup defeat at the weekend. Manager Alan Stubbs said: “It was important we came here and did it right and I think we did that. I got the response I wanted from the players. I thought even when it went to 1-1 we were still going to create chances. To score so quickly after they levelled was good and then the sending off changed the game. It took the sting out of the game. We were in control and we probably could have made it 3-1 a lot earlier than we did.

Asked if he felt the result keeps the heat on play-off rivals Rangers, Stubbs said: “It does. The lads have answered because they could have felt sorry for themselves. There could have been a hangover or disappointment but I thought the way we went about it was good.

“I wouldn’t have enjoyed playing on that pitch. It’s a difficult surface but we did well. Everyone did their jobs.”