Hibs 2, Celtic 5: Doubles for Brown and Elyounoussi fire Hoops into League Cup final

Celtic captain Scott Brown makes it 5-2 against Hibs in the Betfred Cup semi-final. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Celtic captain Scott Brown makes it 5-2 against Hibs in the Betfred Cup semi-final. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
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Thirty cup games undefeated and one step closer to their tenth successive trophy, Celtic do not look in any mood to relinquish the stranglehold they still have on the Scottish game.

And this Betfred Cup semi-final was the perfect example of why they are so difficult to shift. At times utterly unplayable, Celtic were also forced to roll their sleeves up and display a resolve as Hibernian tried to claw their way back into the match. But, with strength in depth and an enduring thirst for success that has not been quenched by their treble treble, the holders simply know how to keep opponents at bay and win the games that matter.

In the end Hibs must be content to have made it out of the match having conceded just five. They might claim that it could have been much better, with Odsonne Edouard offside at Celtic’s second goal and claims for a penalty in the second half waved away when Scott Allan went down, but the truth is that it could also have been a lot worse.

Celtic clattered the upright on a couple of occasions and forced a few quality stops from goalkeeper Chris Maxwell and, while Hibernian looked more dangerous the more ragged the game got, at no point did the champions ever lose control.

To have any chance, Paul Heckingbottom’s men had to keep things tight for as long as possible. On Wednesday night in the Premiership they had gifted Livingston a two-goal lead but managed to pull it back. Against a side of Celtic’s calibre such generosity was always going to be more severely punished.

The threat of a goal had been obvious in the opening period, as the likes of Edouard and Mohamed Elyounoussi got into the groove quickly and although they were denied a spot-kick opportunity in the 16th minute, when a ball into the box from the Southampton loanee was blocked by Paul Hanlon’s outstretched arm, the inevitable had simply been delayed.

Less than a minute later both men were lined up waiting at the back post when James Forrest darted in from the right and sent over a perfect delivery which Elyounoussi headed just under the bar, and past Maxwell.

At that stage the Easter Road side looked rattled and Christopher Jullien was the next to test their mettle as he sent a header goalwards. But this time Maxwell was able to pluck it from the air before more damage was done.

But Celtic had their foot on Hibs’ throat and did not look inclined to remove it.

Elyounoussi was in gallus form and dribbled into the box before attempting to stab one through Tom James’s legs but the right-back, who was having a difficult evening trying to thwart Celtic’s attacking might, was relieved to see that one skid just wide of the post.

But Callum McGregor, pictured inset, got a second in the 21st minute. It was laced with controversy as Edouard was offside when Jullien sent the ball over the top but, unguarded, he squared it for the Scotsman to tap home.

Wave after wave of Celtic pressure, where initial blocks were picked up by team-mates coming in behind or on the overlap, suggested it could get messy for Hibs before they could even reach half-time sanctuary but, in a surprising turn of events, an unusual lapse from Celtic gave them some hope.

In the 36th minute, Hibs capitalised on chaos in the Celtic defence as Kristoffer Ajer tried to clear but the ball ricocheted off a team-mate and squirted through a gap. Melker Hallberg followed in unchecked and slotted it past Fraser Forster.

Any hope it gave Hibs was quashed by Elyounoussi in the 44th minute. A Tom Rogic pass out wide found Edouard, who had again drifted off his markers and into space, and he laid it on a plate for the Norwegian international to finish and reestablish the two-goal advantage.

There were changes at the start of the second half as Heckingbottom, whose position has been widely questioned following a poor start to the season, sent on Flo Kamberi to try to salvage the game and his job.

The Swiss striker did give him a goal but by the time he delivered it, Celtic had scored another and put the game to bed. It came from Scott Brown, who had passed a late fitness test to start the match, as he hooked a shot home from close range after the ball dropped nicely for him from a corner.

Hibs’ would not lie down, though, and two minutes later showed some resilience when Kamberi expertly headed home. But Brown was not done writing his own tale, wading in with his first double since December 2014, bursting forward in the final minute to rattle his initial shot off Maxwell but making no mistake with the rebound.