How Kilmarnock destabilised Celtic in rare struggle for Ange Postecoglou's side at Hampden

It may be tempting to suggest, in heavy weather, that this is precisely what Celtic made of claiming a place in the Viaplay League Cup final.

That, though, would do a grave disservice to a mighty effort from vanquished Kilmarnock. Even as they could not prevent Celtic reaching the decider of the competition for a sixth time in seven seasons. In the incessant swirling rain of Hampden, it was Derek McInnes’ men who paraded their best. So much so the 2-0 scoreline felt unjust. Especially when penalties have been given for less than the spot of near bear-hugging defending from Giorgios Giakoumakis that led to Joe Wright going to ground in the box, two minutes before the Greek bagged a clinching second for his team. A challenge that both referee Willie Collum and VAR-stationed Greg Aitken did not amount to an infringement.

It is rare for a domestic opponent to succeed in destabilising Ange Postecoglou’s men as their semi-final opponents did for stretches of a compelling contest. Rarer still is such a 90 minutes bearing witness to a team producing more goal attempts and more efforts on target than Celtic. Only in the added period, and helped by Giakoumakis’ strike, did the Glasgow club nudge ahead on these metrics. And, just about as rare as hen’s teeth is Joe Hart proving the keeper required to make the decisive saves.

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McInnes bemoaned that his players did not prove clinical enough in such moments. The Ayrshire club’s faithful - a 6,500 strong grouping who also could be commended for giving flavour to the occasion - will agonise over the three crucial instances that Hart denied their team. In the early minutes, the 35-year-old’s positioning was exceptional to extend himself to his right and touch round the post a raking drive from Rory McKenzie. Just after Celtic’s scruffy opener, Hart’s reflexes were also in full working order to push away a Joe Wright downward header that bounced off the turf, though the defender didn’t seem to capitalise fully on his opening with how he directed the ball. The Celtic keeper late on was also at his best to deny substitute Christian Doidge late on as his team struggled to make it on to dry land in negotiating a semi-final that found them in some choppy waters.

Daizen Maeda opens the scoring for Celtic at Hampden. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)Daizen Maeda opens the scoring for Celtic at Hampden. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Daizen Maeda opens the scoring for Celtic at Hampden. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Danny Armstrong caused all manner of issues for the Celtic backline that creaked early on. Indeed, in the 66th minute he maybe ought to have found the target when finding the side netting after sliding in to meet a cross at the back post. But, as Postecoglou was keen to stress afterwards, in the face of such scrapes, Celtic found a way to scrap their way to the final on the bare-ish, soaking sponge of a surface at the national stadium. Certainly, they were helped by a madcap moment from Kyle Lafferty. The opener resulted from the Northern Irishman - subjected to sectarian slurs from the Celtic support on his return from being banned for 10 matches for a sectarian slur - miscuing to batter a cross towards his own goal when, off-balance, he must have been attempting to knock it behind. His shank led to the ball grazing the chest of the lurking Daizen Maeda to divert into the net.

It was that sort of evening for Kilmarnock, whose resistance was well-and-truly ended by a trio of Celtic substitutes seconds before the end of the additional time. James Forrest slipped in David Turnbull for a shooting chance from an angle on the left that led to keeper Sam Walker parrying the ball into the path of Celtic’s Greek striker to tuck away for his first goal since October. His celebration, windmilling with his yanked-off strip, earned him a booking. By then, Celtic had booked themselves another trophy decider day of the sort they have racked up with astonishing regularity in the past seven years.



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