Even with the threatening start made the Greenock team made to their fourth round trip to Glasgow’s east end – it was a delight to see and hear that rarity of a boisterous, sizeable away support, which numbered 2,000 – Ange Postecoglou’s men were a shoe-in to progress. So, for a club that have had legitimate gripes over VAR interventions these past three months, the televised encounter just had to be the time the technology would turn undeserved giver. In utterly ridiculous fashion. More than that, when VAR chose to gift – and further erode credibility in it – the poor beggar on the receiving end just had to be Efe Ambrose.
The former Celtic player whose hugely successful four-year stint with the club earned him a reputation – one lacking nuance – that calamity would seek him out and mock him. As was the case when he conceded a penalty that paved the way for Morton to produce an almighty League Cup shock at Celtic Park in September 2013. Oh the fates with the Nigerian…which he proved a pawn for again on the quarter-hour mark of this tie.
When play was stopped by referee Kevin Clancy and the announcement of a VAR check – initiated by the man in charge of the system Craig Napier – was announced over the tannoy, stadium-wide the reaction was ‘eh?’ Three minutes later – it felt like 30 – after Clancy had consulted his monitor and awarded a penalty slammed in by Aaron Mooy, the ‘ehs’ remained. Subsequent to viewings of the apparent offence courtesy of the game’s screening live on the BBC. Somehow, the defender was punished for the ball bouncing up behind him off the toe of Jack Baird. Ambrose had no real sighting of it, and it struck his hardly-outstretched trailing arm. Preposterous.
The luckless soul then soon compounded an unhappy return. With bleak inevitability. It was peak Ambrose to take a heavy touch and allow Leil Abada to steam in and feed Kyogo Furuhashi. There was only one outcome after it allowed the Japanese predator to bear down on Morton keeper Brian Schwake. The unstoppable striker, capitalising on another defensive error - not from Ambrose mercifully - to plunder a second on the stroke of the interal, a blink-of-the-eye shimmy followed by a blooter of an effort Schwake couldn’t keep out. It took his tally for the season to 20, nine of these in his past eight appearances. Celtic’s fourth, three minutes earlier, their third had arrived courtesy of David Turnbull, from the D, fashioning a raking low drive to a tee. His celebration, as was the case when he produced a corking long-ranger in the midweek win as a closing minutes substitute, was subdued. To say the least. Notably, the tie marked his first start in more than two months.
On a day when Josip Juranovic departure for Union Berlin was all but confirmed and the absence of Giorgos Giakoumakis suggested he won’t be long for Glasgow, the second half allowed for Postecoglou to infuse his team with fresh blood. Before the expected arrival of striker Oh Hyeon-gyu. Captain Callum McGregor and Furuhashi were withdrawn and a debut given to recently recruited holding midfielder Tomoki Iwata. By the end of a one-sided second half that somehow didn’t lead to further punishment for the visitors until Mooy netted from close range in a crowded box at the close, the Celtic manager was able to provide another first sighting for one of his squad youngsters. It came with 19-year-old Irish centre-back Bosun Lawal replacing Carl Starfelt in the 87th minute for his first senior outing. Postecoglou certainly embraces player turnover.