The Premiership’s top two met at Murrayfield to determine the first finalist of the 2018-19 Betfred Cup.
Top of the table Hearts made two changes for this Betfred Cup semi-final, from their 3-0 midweek win at Dens Park. Peter Haring was welcomed back from injury and came back into the midfield with Olly Lee. They both replaced youngsters Harry Cochrane and, rather surprisingly given how well he’s played this season, Callumn Morrison.
Brendan Rodgers made six changes from the Celtic side beaten 2-0 by RB Leipzig in Germany in midweek. James Forrest, suspended in midweek, replaced Lewis Morgan. Tom Rogic returned in midfield with Ryan Christie dropping to the bench. A makeshift centre-back pairing of Filip Benkovic and Kristoffer Ajer replacing the injured Jozo Simunovic and the suspended Dedryck Boyata. Mikael Lustig came in to captain the side, Cristian Gamboa making way and Scott Bain continued in goal in this competition replacing former Hearts keeper Craig Gordon.
Naismith injury sets the tone
Just a few hundred yards from their Tynecastle home, it was Hearts who probably had the better of a drab first half. This was despite losing their talisman and the league’s top goalscorer Steven Naismith. He was the latest to become part of this ‘captain’s armband curse’, with the Jambos having already seen Christophe Berra and John Souttar become injured. Naismith was able to last just eight minutes before being replaced by Danny Amankwaa.
Jimmy Dunne, who’s been a real find for Hearts so far this season whilst being on loan from Burnley, sent a long ball forward which Olly Lee caught on the half-volley. However, the son of former England international Rob could only shoot straight at Bain from far out.
The capital club’s pressure continued, Michael Smith gathering possession to find Arnaud Djoum. And, as the Cameroonian found fellow midfielder Peter Haring, the Austrian saw his strike deflect out for a corner. It drifted just wide of Bain’s left hand post.
From the resulting corner, Hearts would have the ball in the net. Olly Lee’s outswinger found his central midfield partner Haring, who nodded down for Steven MacLean to turn in on the spin. The temporary captain’s celebrations came to an abrupt halt, though, as the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
Celtic were beginning to find their stride with Tom Rogic on halfway sliding through for Scott Sinclair, on for Kouassi Eboue after 25 minutes. He advanced on Michael Smith, before cutting in and sending a curling effort goalward. This was only to be denied by a fantastic Bobby Zlamal save. It was Celtic’s only real chance of the first 45 in a poor game so far.
Substitutes combining for the opener
The real changing point came when Ryan Christie was fouled in the box, resulting in a Celtic penalty. Coming down the left hand side, Kieran Tierney found Scott Sinclair, a real pest since coming on. He again ran at Smith before slotting inside towards fellow substitute Ryan Christie, on for Olivier Ntcham. He shifted back outside before being tripped by Oliver Bozanic. This gave Willie Collum the easiest decision of the afternoon as Celtic were given a spot kick, along with the chance to break the deadlock.
Amid no real Hearts protest, Scott Sinclair would take and duly convert. He tucked his effort into the bottom left hand corner. Zlamal dived left, but was sent the wrong way as Celtic took the lead in the first Betfred Cup semi-final at Murrayfield in the country’s capital.
Hearts capitulation began
Never great to concede a penalty but the second goal is even worse to give up from a Hearts’ perspective. James Forrest looked to find Odsonne Edouard, whose shot deflected off Clevid Dikamona and back to Ryan Christie.
The substitute sent a tame effort goalwards, more like a pass than a shot, which Bobby Zlamal fumbled. And, as the ball headed to trickle over the line, the Czech shotstopper palmed out to the anticipating Forrest who stabbed home from close range. This put Celtic up two to the good, and put the game beyond Hearts.
Ryan Christie showed some real quality
The first two goals will have frustrated Craig Levein and the Jambos. It’s fair to say though that could be done about Celtic’s third. Ryan Christie, impressive since replacing Ntcham at the interval, won man of the match. This was due to his contribution to the first and second goal, before scoring an absolute beauty for the third.
Mikael Lustig exchanged a one two with Forrest from a throw-in, the Swede finding Odsonne Edouard with a cross. His mis-control turned into a smart lay-off for Christie who on the move, produced a fabulous left footed curling finish into the top hand corner. Zlamal may be to blame for the second goal but there’s nothing he could have done with the third. Indeed, it was a stunning finish by Christie.
Bad could’ve and should’ve got worse for Hearts
A superb attacking move from Celtic saw numerous players combine as they hunted a fourth goal. Lustig found Callum McGregor who played it to fellow midfielder Tom Rogic who slotted through for Odsonne Edouard. The club’s record signing shifted onto his right foot and beat Zlamal easily. He was denied by a superb goalline clearance from young Jimmy Dunne to keep it 0-3 as Callumn Morrison, off the bench, scrambled clear.
Another Lustig pass, this time across field, was controlled excellently by Scott Sinclair. He fed the overlapping Tierney and, as the left back pulled back to Forrest, Bobby Zlamal was able to deny the winger who was searching for the top right-hand corner.
Another chance saw Forrest slide in Sinclair who got the better of Dunne and Zlamal and having the goal at his wake, Clevid Dikamona turned his effort off the line. Lustig again found the winger who had another goalward effort headed off the line by Smith. The former Manchester City and Aston Villa man had been given two bites of the cherry to grab his brace.
In the end, it wasn’t to matter, as Celtic ensured they were the first of the two finalists. They have the chance to play either Aberdeen or Rangers in the final. This is a competition they’ve won two years on the trot, as they hunt a treble-treble under Brendan Rodgers.
Both these sides are in league action on Halloween in midweek. Hearts host Hibs in the first Edinburgh derby of the season as Hibs look to cut the gap on their city rivals. Craig Levein’s selection headache was not made any easier following Steven MacLean accepting a two match ban for grabbing Kouassi Eboue’s testicles at a Hearts corner. Celtic play basement boys Dundee at Dens Park.