This was different to most Celtic defeats. We were arguably unlucky not to force a replay and the only disappointing thing was the nature of the goals we lost, both falling into the soft category. Just about everyone had a good game, the traditional early goal loss didn't lead to a collapse and there was plenty to be encouraged about. Play like that at Hampden in a fortnight and there will be few complaints about the performance, regardless of the result.
After changing things around for the game on Wednesday, Danny Lennon did it again as he went with a rather more familiar look. Steven Thompson, Esmael Goncalves and David van Zanten all returned at the expense of Lewis Guy, Sam Parkin and David Barron, who was hobbling about the main stand on crutches. Gary Teale was back from injury with Graham Carey the one to be afflicted by such problems, meaning he could only start on the bench. It looked a similar system as to the one used in the semi-final Paul Dummett replacing Carey and Lee Mair taking over from Jim Goodwin the only alterations. There would be no repeat of Georgios Samaras' comedy Hampden pass as he was only a Celtic sub, Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper preferred up front. Sadly for us it wasn't a second string with the likes of Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley and Efe Ambrose all present and correct.
We had a bright 90 seconds, Teale going on a fine run down the right, then it all fell apart. As the defence claimed for an offside flag that never came Stokes raced onto the past and avoided a number of tackles before someone got in the way of his eventual shot, Wanyama then lashing his shot straight at Samson. An escape? Well, it was for a minute. James Forrest absolutely destroyed Dummett at the corner flag and when he put the ball into the box our defence were far too slow to react and Ledley nipped in to head in the opener. It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon.
The next goal came from an even more shambolic and hilarious piece of defending - and it came at the other end. After a free-kick was cleared John McGinn tried to pick out Thompson at the backpost but Emilio Izaguirre got there first - only for his second header to go sailing over Forster's head. It was an own goal all the way, Goncalves appearing at the last minute to make sure and head it over the line to restore parity and end his four game drought. Suddenly we were up for the fight and not giving Celtic a moment's piece, a typical Goncalves run seeing his shot fly narrowly wide.
We had a rather enjoyable 10 minute period before we shot ourselves in the foot again. A debatable corner was taken short, but we weren't paying attention and Hooper played the ball back to Forrest, his deep ball finding Stokes completely unmarked in the six yard box to head is side back in front. At least we had rattled Neil Lennon who, having exchanged some verbals with the main stand faithful earlier in the game, took great pleasure in winding them up with his celebration. He was wound up again when Thompson flew into Kelvin Wilson a bit late, the striker being booked. The case for it not being a free-kick and for it being a red card could both be made so referee Alan Muir probably got that one right!
It was enjoyable stuff, effort and passion in abundance more than flair and quality. Thompson got onto the end of a Teale free-kick but could only head over, although it took a deflection, before we allowed Ambrose too much time to go forward and take a shot. Fortunately he delayed his initial effort and by the time he did have a go it was blocked. We looked rather shaky at the back - perhaps missing Goodwin's influence - but we were treated to the rare sight of Danny Lennon tearing the fourth official a new one after some slight or other. Keep it up Danny! He was rather more restrained when Wanyama clattered McGinn and inexplicably escaped a booking, the Kenyan shooting over in first half stoppage time.
The second entry for the next own goals and gaffes DVD almost arrived a few seconds after the break when Stokes charged down a backpass and Samson fired it off him. As the striker lay injured Samson kept his eye on the ball to ensure it didn't eventually end up in his net. Thankfully Ledley's shot a few minutes later failed to cause him any problems before Stokes shot into the side netting. Goncalves was showing some moments of inspiration and had a great shooting opportunity which failed to pose a threat as Wanyama stuck a foot on his shot to ensure it went to Forster. A fantastic charge down the right from van Zanten ended with a poor cross but Forster dropped it under pressure from his own defence, sadly the ball not falling for someone in a black and white shirt to rattle home.
McGowan was in a decent position at the edge of the box and opted to shoot, sending his effort wide, before Hooper almost finished things. Again the defence was slack, a ball bounced over Mair and the prolific striker had only one thing in mind, hitting a terrific shot that Samson superbly touched into the bar before Forrest put the loose ball well wide with the goal gaping. Stokes had been causing us problems but was replaced by Samaras for the last 20 minutes, with the tiring McGowan coming off for Carey. He sent in a teasing cross that Thompson almost managed to get to before Forster before he then picked out Goncalves with a fine crossfield pass, the forward opting to hit it first time and Forster barely had to move to save it. If only he'd been fit enough to start as his fantastic free-kick looked goalbound before Forster palmed it away and Conor Newton headed the loose ball over.
As Celtic replaced Thomas Rogne with Beyram Kayal we decided to put Parkin on for Dummett with five minutes remaining. With Celtic intent on running the clock down - nothing wrong with that - we had little chance to get an equaliser until stoppage time. Carey's corner found Parkin and he should probably have hit the target, his header instead bouncing to Mair who could only shoot into the side netting. It was our final chance of an entertaining game and meant Celtic gained revenge - but give me a semi-final win at Hampden over a quarter-final win any day!
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