Celtic beat Rangers in Scottish Cup semi-final to keep treble hopes alive
Jota’s first-half header gave Celtic a hard-fought 1-0 win over Rangers at Hampden Park to set up a Scottish Cup final date with Inverness which could see them clinch the domestic treble.
The returning Portuguese winger punished slack Gers defending three minutes from the interval to head past keeper Allan McGregor from close range.
Ibrox skipper James Tavernier hit the post with a drive in a breathless second half, with substitute Fashion Sakala missing the open goal from the rebound, but despite much huffing and puffing the holders could not muster an equaliser and it eventually turned into another hard-luck story.
Ominously, Michael Beale has not beaten Celtic in four attempts since taking over as Light Blues boss last November, while Rangers have not won an Old Firm game in six attempts.
Ange Postecoglou’s side, one cinch Premiership victory away from retaining the title and with the ViaPlay trophy already in the Parkhead trophy room, will be overwhelming favourites when they play Championship side Inverness at the national stadium on June 3 and few will bet against them completing the clean sweep.
For Beale and Rangers, it is now all about next season.
A 50-50 allocation split ensured the atmosphere was much more electric than in recent league games, attended by the home support only, and there was some drama when referee Willie Collum pulled up in the warm-up to be replaced by fourth official Don Robertson.
Gers fans welcomed back defender Connor Goldson and Ryan Kent while Hoops supporters were delighted to see Japan midfielder Reo Hatate and Jota back from injury, to have both sides more or less at full strength.
After the kick-off was delayed to allow the smoke from supporters’ flares to clear, Rangers showed their intent to press early and midfielder Nicolas Raskin won a corner with a deflected shot from 25 yards, which was well defended.
Celtic settled and began forcing the Govan side into basic errors as they enjoyed a period of control, with Rangers responding in a see-saw match.
The first clear-cut chance of the fiery encounter had still to arrive but in the 26th minute McGregor made a good diving save from Celtic right-back Alistair Johnston’s powerful 20-yard shot before the Gers keeper saved Jota’s angled-drive with his foot.
Malik Tillman injured himself challenging Celtic left-back Greg Taylor down the left-flank and had to be replaced by fellow midfielder Scott Arfield.
Jota failed to control a Daizen Maeda cross when unmarked at the back post and a decent chance was gone but he made no mistake moments later.
Rangers inexplicably stopped when referee Robertson took no action after Raskin challenged Celtic midfielder Matt O’Riley at the edge of the box and Maeda took possession of the loose ball and swiftly crossed for Jota to bullet a header past McGregor.
Rangers began the second-half as well as they had the first and won a series of free-kicks. From one delivery, Hoops keeper Joe Hart saved from Sakala then from Ryan Kent, before defender Cameron Carter-Vickers cleared to safety.
Johnston clashed with Barisic and limped off to be replaced by Anthony Ralston and the match swung from end to end.
Hoops striker Kyogo Furuhashi forced a save from McGregor with a drive to the near post before Arfield tested Hart with an effort from a similar distance.
In the 65th minute, when Tavernier beat Hart with a low drive from distance and Sakala missed the target with the rebound, it felt like it was not going to the Ibrox side’s day.
Tavernier headed a deep cross from Barisic on to the ground and over the bar from 10 yards as Rangers’ pressure intensified but they eventually ran out of time.
Beale has spoken regularly in recent weeks about the rebuild he proposes next season and he needs to get it right but before that there is another Old Firm meeting in the league in two weeks’ time in which Celtic will again fancy their chances as they continue to dominate this fixture.