A compelling semi-final in the William Hill Scottish Cup here resulted in Aberdeen progressing to face the winners of Sunday’s Old Firm collision at the same venue, but only after being favoured by a massive serving of good fortune for Jonny Hayes’s deflected late winner, that was credited goal. Not that it had looked as though they would need such intervention, as they took the lead after only 12 seconds, when Adam Rooney pounced on a slack pass from Darren McGregor to drill his finish home from the edge of the Hibs box.
The holders looked beyond redemption when they conceded a second goal in farcical circumstances midway through the first half. The occasion was a free-kick conceded when Fraser Fyvie fouled Kenny McLean and was booked for his pains. Ryan Christie’s delivery of the set-piece appeared to confound Hibs’ two-man wall of Martin Boyle and Dylan McGeouch, which split to allow Ryan Christie’s delivery free passage into the net.
Neil Lennon responded a few minutes later by sending on Grant Holt for Fyvie, who left the field in a sulk, but the manager’s judgment was vindicated when the replacement scored with his first touch, meeting a cross from Martin Boyle with an angled header across Joe Lewis. Holt then turned supplier after the break when his cute prompt released McGeouch for a low driven equaliser.
In the final quarter, the teams were level on goals and possession and, with the likelihood of extra time or a penalty decider, the matter was settled by the capriciousness that attended Hayes’ late winner. With only six minutes of normal time left, the Dubliner finished a meandering run across the edge of the Hibs box with a speculative shot that carried no menace until it struck McGregor’s knee.
Even then the deflection looked as though it would swirl wide. Instead, it curled and trundled just inside the post. Hibs’ desperate attempt to quarry another equaliser had Aberdeen visibly nervous throughout the three added minutes but eventually time simply ran out on Lennon and his men.
“We got a break with the goal but we earned that, no doubt about it,” said Derek McInnes, the Dons’ boss. “In the five semi-finals we have been involved in, I thought we were the dominant team in the two we lost, but semi-finals are all about getting through.
“It was end to end at times and you weren’t sure which way it was going to go. Thankfully, it went our way.”
Celtic have already annexed this season’s Scottish League Cup and SPFL title and are only two games away from a domestic treble, a feat that will come one stage nearer if they beat Rangers at Hampden today to reach the final. The Hoops’ accumulation of honours is in marked contrast to the situation on the other side of the city, where the disparity has been noted by Pedro Caixinha.
“Everybody is talking about stopping Celtic getting the treble,” said the Rangers manager. “I’m not caring about stopping the treble. If I care about stopping the treble then it means I don’t care about winning a trophy. I want to win this semi-final to make sure we get to the final and then win the trophy. It’s about the moment. Nothing else before it or after it.”
Since early March, when he joined Rangers on a three-year deal, Caixinha has responded to questions about the longer term by insisting that his immediate priority is to seize the day. It was the same story ahead of the collision with Celtic.
“This is an Old Firm game, it’s a 90-minute match and it’s a semi-final, so we can beat them,” he said.
“I don’t care if it’s 90 minutes, 120 or penalties, we just need to be ready and convinced we can do it, with due respect to Celtic’s manager and as a club and a team, who think the same way as us, for sure. I don’t care if they are better than us in the game or not.
“By the end, what is going to matter is the result. We want to be the ones who, by the end, are celebrating at Hampden Park.”