Achieving a Rare Semi

Back to League Cup duty, and once again we’re off to Hampden for our semi final against Hibernian. And, just for a change, we’re the Saturday semi final rather than the Sunday!

Think I’d be more appreciative of that if we hadn’t played away from home in the Champions League on Wednesday night. But not to worry.

While we’ve dispatched Kilmarnock 5-0 and Dundee 4-0 in the previous two rounds of this competition, Hibernian had to come through the group stage as well. Wins at home 6-1 to Arbroath and 4-0 to Montrose as well as a 3-0 win away to Alloa Athletic were enough to see them top their section ahead of a Ross County team they could only draw 0-0 with. Losing the penalty shootout for the bonus point wasn’t a problem though.

Despite not being seeded in the second round draw, it was kind to them and they had a 5-0 win at home to Ayr United. The quarter final draw then saw them at home to Livingston, a team they hadn’t met in this competition since losing the 2003/04 final. Indeed, they were behind twice in the game before finally winning 3-2 thanks to a late penalty.

Playing Hibernian in the semi final of a cup competition seems to be something of a novelty. It’s not that we haven’t met them in cups, but by my reckoning we’ve played them in more finals than semi finals!

Our last semi final meeting with Hibernian came back in the 1994/95 season, when Tommy Burns’ Celtic team won the Scottish Cup replay 3-1 at Ibrox. The original tie had finished 0-0, but goals from Willie Falconer and John Collins gave Celtic the lead and despite Keith Wright pulling a goal back for Hibernian, Phil O’Donnell came of the bench to clinch the game with the third.

That was only our fourth Scottish Cup semi final against Hibernian, but it was our fourth victory over them at that stage having beaten them 3-1 in 1988/89, 5-0 in 1979/80 and 3-0 after two 0-0 draws way back in 1906/07.

If that seems sparse, then our League Cup meetings at this stage are even more so. This is actually only our second League Cup semi final against Hibernian! The first came back in 1965/66, after a 2-2 draw in the first game where Bobby Lennox had a last minute equaliser after Joe McBride had give us the lead only for Neil Martin to turn it around, Celtic ran out 4-0 winners in the replay thanks to goals from McBride, John Hughes, Lennox and Bobby Murdoch.

So if history is any indication, Celtic should win this game today, but maybe not in 90 minutes.

It’s also worth noting that in each of those seasons mentioned, Celtic also went on to win in the final to lift the trophy. Hopefully these two facts continue this season!

It’s been almost exactly six years since we last met Hibernian in this tournament at all. In October 2011, Neil Lennon’s Celtic travelled to Easter Road in the quarter final of the tournament and were actually a goal down thanks to an early Dan Majstorovic own goal. But the second half got off to a roaring start when James Forrest equalised just a minute after the break. He then put Celtic ahead before the hour mark, before Anthony Stokes added to that lead six minutes later. Before the clock has hit 70 minutes, Gary Hooper had put the tie to bed with a fourth before Ivan Sproule then got himself sent off late on just to give us all a laugh.

Neil Lennon will be in the Hibernian dugout for this tie, but it’s worth noting that two of the goalscorers that day may well also be featuring again today. James Forrest looked lively against Bayern Munich in midweek when he came off the bench, while Hibernian will be looking to Anthony Stokes to put them through to their second League Cup final in three years.

After all, Hibernian lost the 2015/16 final to the same Ross County team that knocked us out in the semi final.

Hibernian gave us arguably our toughest domestic game of the Brendan Rodgers era just a few weeks ago at Celtic Park. Despite Callum McGregor giving us a first half lead, two goals from John McGinn took us to within thirteen minutes of losing our unbeaten domestic record. That lasted just three minutes though as McGregor levelled the game once more. The fact it finished all square will certainly mean Hibernian will fancy their chances again today – especially since they had the midweek off while we were putting in a lot of effort for little reward in Munich.

Whether there are any after effects of that game ahead of a Saturday lunch time kick off remains to be seen, but it’s equally possible that Rodgers will use the 2-2 result as encouragement to go out and do better this time. After all, the last time we were at Hampden for a semi final, we also faced a team who had recently earned themselves a draw at Celtic Park and got away with not conceding a late penalty in doing so!

And they lost that semi final with a 2-0 scoreline that flattered them.

I’ve seen some people still pointing to the idea of a Hampden hoodoo, but if anything that one should be aimed at our opposition. Brendan Rodgers has taken a team there on four occasions and won all four, whereas Neil Lennon took Hibernian there just once last season and lost. Throw in the Neil Lennon record at Hampden when he was Celtic manager and you remember where that hoodoo chat came from in the first place!

Ultimately though, this will come down to which team plays better on the day. Celtic, as usual, will be favourites. If Hibernian lose this game there won’t be talk of hoodoos, only talk of the result going as expected. But don’t let the favourite tag fool you, Hibernian are capable of causing Celtic problems as they’ve already shown – and Celtic losing Jozo Simunovic for another few weeks won’t have damaged that possibility for them either.

It will be down to Celtic to cause their own problems for Hibernian. McGregor already has two goals against them, in a game where Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts all came off the bench as we started players like Jonny Hayes, Odsonne Edouard and a still getting back to fitness Moussa Dembele. Perhaps most crucially though, Scott Brown was missing through injury and you can never underestimate missing the influence of your captain on the park.

An improvement on the league game performance will certainly be required to make it through to another domestic final today, but there are plenty of options open to Celtic for doing just that. I’m sure Rodgers will have the team properly prepared and ready to take on this latest challenge, with no thoughts of underestimating the potential for a Neil Lennon side to once again upset the odds.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. TocTic says:

    Achieving A Rare Semi,Have You Seen Michael Mols Wife……..LoL.HH

Leave A Reply