Celtic demonstrate a big appetite for glory in defeat of Hibs
Last term’s achievements are not enough, though, for a team who don’t just have an appetite for glory but seem to depend on it to sustain them. As they look forward to another final, only Motherwell can deny them the opportunity to dream of replicating that feat.
“We spoke about it at the start of the season and the message was we want to win them again, not just defend them,” said midfielder Callum McGregor, who had been reinstated to the team that arrived back in Glasgow weary from their midweek exertions in Munich. He gave the side fresh legs in the middle of the park as they continued to drive home their dominance. “We want to go out there playing fast, aggressive football and that’s what you need to do to win trophies. We showed that especially in the first half against Hibs and when we needed to dig in we showed again that we can do that side of it too.”
Hibernian contributed to their own downfall, gifting Celtic a two-goal advantage by half-time. That not only gave them a cushion but also gave them a pep in their step and something to fight for as they closed in on the first cup final of the season.
“It was a big thing for us last season to get the first trophy on board because we were playing well and scoring goals, but you want something as a reward for that,” added McGregor, pictured. “Winning the Betfred Cup last season gave us that reward. It’s the first trophy of the season and getting it under your belt gives you a great boost. So hopefully we can do the same again this time round and kick on again from there.
“The manager is always stressing this competition is important for us because last year it sent us on a great run. The aim this year will be to do exactly the same. Going 60 matches unbeaten is a lot of games and we have had a lot of tough tests in that time.”
Hibs came close to ending that run when they met in the Premiership but it never really looked likely on Saturday, affording Aberdeen a shot at that glory when they face up to the defending champions at Pittodrie on Wednesday.
From the 15th minute, Hibs faced an uphill tussle. That was when Mikael Lustig netted the first of his two goals.
Dedryck Boyata flicked on a Stuart Armstrong cross. At the back post Brandon Barker lost Lustig and the Celtic defender punished him, slotting the loose ball home.
Neil Lennon opted to stick with Ross Laidlaw in goal rather than reinstate Ofir Marciano and it is a decision he may have been rueing three minutes from the break.
Leigh Griffith’s corner found Lustig who had evaded the attentions of David Gray and, while his effort could have been saved, Laidlaw allowed it to squirm past him.
“The way we lost the first two goals was really disappointing,” said Laidlaw. “I could have done better at the second goal. It just skidded through more quickly than I thought it would. I just tried to get something on it but I put it in the back of the net. It’s really frustrating. Goalkeepers make mistakes. I have to move on from it.
“We did well after the break. We rallied round and the manager made a couple of changes at half-time. We got back into it but gave away another cheap goal and their fourth goal came when we were trying to level.”
The changes saw Steven Whittaker and Martin Boyle come on and they did make an impact but Celtic countered with quality switches of their own as James Forrest and Moussa Dembele entered the fray.
In the 59th minute, Martin Boyle won a penalty and Anthony Stokes slotted it away but, in response, Armstrong sent the ball into the box seven minutes later and it was Forrest who played it towards Scott Sinclair. His sclaff fell into Dembele’s path and he popped it past Laidlaw.
That could have been it but Hibs showed the fight that may be needed if they want a better result in the first capital derby of the season. It wasn’t enough against Celtic, though.
Whittaker slipped a perfectly-weighted pass in behind the Celtid defence and substitute Oli Shaw was composed as he finished past Craig Gordon.
But, with time running out, and Hibs pressing for the goal that would force extra time, Celtic capitalised on the space, charged upfield and Dembele curled his shot around Laidlaw to seal Celtic’s passage to yet another final.