Celtic make light work of Raith Rovers to assure Ange Postecoglou of Hampden visit

It wasn’t just the disco lights that were back at Celtic Park as Ange Postecglou’s team sashayed into the Premier Sports Cup semi-finals with a 3-0 over Raith Rovers.

Raith's Aidan Connolly (centre) holds off Celtic's Albian Ajeti during a Premier Sports Cup quarter final match between Celtic and Raith Rovers at Celtic Park, on September 23, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

After taking the sort of time required for an energy-saving bulb to fire – about half an hour, that’ll be – an opener that brought Jota’s first goal had them back producing the illuminating football with which they have lit up home encounters.

Whatever their gloomy outcomes away from home, it seems pretty much a given they will bag three goals in any domestic context within their own backyard – 21 goals, indeed, the product of their five home encounters against Scottish rivals. They will believe their latest return was modest considering their cinch Championship opponents reduced to 10 men an hour in; the result of Dario Zanatta crazily, and unceremoniously, grappling Anthony Ralston to the ground only four minutes after he had received a first caution.

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Celtic, by then, had their three-goal haul and Postecoglou will be cheered by the parts played by Jota and the much-derided James McCarthy. The on-loan winger played with the freedom demanded by Celtic’s manager to score the first and set up the second, and could have had a personal triple. McCarthy grew into the encounter, and showed the authority he was entirely bereft of in his first start at Livingston on Sunday.

The Celtic huddle during a Premier Sports Cup quarter final match between Celtic and Raith Rovers at Celtic Park, on September 23, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Postecoglou had spoken of “sterile” attacking approach from his side early on in that defeat, and it seemed in danger of afflicting them during the early stages of the quarter-final. In front of a healthy home crowd, they seemed in need of a spark to re-engage confidence. Too often, though, the search for the perfect pass led only to blockages in and around the box, with Christophe Berra and Liam Dick then coping with the stuttering movement from the Celtic attackers.

The switch was flicked when McCarthy actually succeeded in producing the near-perfect through ball to find Jota drifting in behind the visitors backline, the 23-year-old taking a confident touch before finish with a clip into the corner of the net.

The confidence surge in the Celtic ranks from this 26th opener was palpable. Five minutes from the interval, Jota drifted in from the left before sending in a curling effort keeper Jamie McDonald could only palm out onto the header of Liel Abada, who gratefully nodded in for a fifth goal in Celtic colours.

Scoring was completed in sublime fashion just after the restart when David Turnbull stepped forward and, from 20 yards, chopped a low drive with the outside of his right foot for a precision finish – a fitting way to cap his 50th appearance.

Celtic's Liel Abada celebrates making it 2-0. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

With Postecoglou’s first trip to Hampden assured, he was able to shuffle his line-up. The most notable substitution was the introduction of Liam Scales for Albian Ajeti in the 61st minute. The £600,000 defensive signing was installed at left-back, but was able to regularly join in the forays towards the Kirkcaldy team’s box, and showed up well.

Celtic:Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Montgomery;Rogic (Soro 68), McCarthy (Bitton 68), Turnbull; Abada (Juranovic 61), Ajeti (Scales 61). Subs:Giakoumakis, Bolingoli, Urhoghide, Bain, Welsh.

Raith Rovers:McDonald; Tumilty, Benedictus, Berra, Dick;Connolly (Fotheringham 71), Tait (McKay 71), Riley-Snow (Arnott 80), Matthews (Spencer 63), Zanatta; Varian (Poplatnik 63). Subs:Lang, Thomson, Mitchell, Young.