In isolation, Celtic’s trudge through to the Scottish Cup semi-final was achieved without them ever really skating on thin ice. Their footing, though, did not seem so sure against a Morton side that performed creditably as to suggest they will be required to tread anything but gingerly at Ibrox next Sunday.
It took an hour - and the interval introduction of Odsonne Edouard for the out-of-touch Scott Sinclair - for Brendan Rodgers’ men to find a way through a stubborn Championship opponent. They did so through a fine headed strike from Moussa Dembele, who shortly afterwards netted from the penalty spot after being brought down by Michael Doyle for an offence that television pictures showed was a shade outside the area.
There was an absence of rhythm and intensity in Celtic play’s before these goals that was openly acknowledged by Rodgers afterwards. The pursuit of the never-before-achieved feat of two consecutive trebles may have moved forward another notable step with the quarter-final win. However, this was almost eclipsed by what his side’s display would mean for quelling any title insurgence from an in-form Rangers when the pair go toe-to-toe in a week’s time.
A “steady” debut for Marvin Compper - apart from a first stray pass that almost let Morton in after a couple of minutes, Rodgers noted - might bring him in to contention for a derby that sees the Glasgow clubs separated by six points, Graeme Murty’s side having played a game more. A Celtic victory in the derby would snuff out any title pretensions from their emboldened city rivals.
Edouard will have enhance his prospects of making that derby after netting in the 90th minute. Prior to that he had established a frontline partnership with Dembele that was a departure from the solitary-central striker orthodoxy for Rodgers that brought to life his fellow Frenchman.
The Celtic manager said he has “in his mind” a team for the derby with the Paris Saint-Germain loanee clearly in his thinking. ““I thought he was very good,” the Celtic manager said of Edouard. “He’s a young player I rate highly, he can play in a number of positions. He has strength, power and threatens in behind, he’s quick but he can link in behind as well. I felt that those two occupied their back four really well because they are both quick. Odsonne wants to run in behind but his link up and hold up play is really good and he had two good chances before he scored the goal. [Playing him against Rangers] is something I can consider. I’ve an idea of what we want to do if everyone’s fit next week but certainly today he provided the spark the team needed.”
The sluggish nature of Celtic as compared to the switched-on nature of Morton in the opening stages belied the difficulties encountered by the Greenock club in preparing for the occasion as the country ground to a halt amidst the white blanket that covered it. The conditions, indeed, led the club’s chief executive Warren Hawke to question the staging of the fixture yesterday.
“We had a half hour training session in a blizzard at Battery Park on Friday,” said manager Jim Duffy. “The goalie coach Davie Wylie got the shovels out and cleared a 20-yard area for us. t got us a touch of the ball but it was baltic and the snow was blowing all over the place. That’s all we did since Tuesday [and the defeat by Livingston at Cappielow].. It’s all we could do because of a lack of facilities. But we could have spent a week preparing for Celtic and they might still have won. Of course, it wasn’t ideal preparation but by Friday we wanted to play the game. Mentally we were prepared and the players were ready for it.”
They demonstrated that readiness by giving as good as they got across the opening half hour. Celtic took charge thereafter but not until neat footwork from Tom Rogic allowed the Australian to make space form himself on right before flipping over a hanging cross that Dembele rose powerfully to nod into net.
Duffy didn’t agonise over the wrong call from referee John Beaton that let Dembele drive in a penalty to wrap up a last four place come the 71st minute. A third goal was harsh on his team but they were powerless to stop that when, in the final minute of normal time, James Forrest produced an accurate cut-back from the right for Edouard, who cleverly shifted the ball from right to left foot, before chopping in an effort that looped up to beat Gaston.