Hearts 0-3 Celtic: Holders coast into Betfred Cup final
Hearts 0-3 Celtic: Brendan Rodgers maintains 100 per cent record in domestic cups as Scott Sinclair, James Forrest and Ryan Christie fire holders to Betfred Cup final
- Substitute Scott Sinclair gave Celtic the lead with a smartly converted penalty
- Hearts captain Steven Naismith was forced off with an injury after eight minutes
- Craig Levein’s side did have the ball in the net before the break but it was offside
- Brendan Rodgers went into the contest with a 100 per cent domestic cup record
- James Forrest and Ryan Christie wrapped up the win for Rodgers’ outfit
With a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic seem able to flush adverse experiences from the memory bank at will.
For a fifth time in three seasons, the Northern Irishman took his side into a game in the latter stages of this competition on the back of a painful European defeat. Remarkably, on each occasion, they have prevailed.
Surely no one, however, could possibly have foreseen their powers of recovery extending to such a comprehensive dismissal of a Hearts side currently laying claim to being the best side in the land.
Celtic coasted into the final of the Betfred Cup thanks to a 3-0 victory over Hearts
Scott Sinclair (r) of Celtic celebrates with Ryan Christie (c) after scoring his side’s first goal
Ryan Christie’s stunner from the edge of the area put the icing on the cake for Celtic
James Forrest (front) took advantage of an error from Zdenek Zlamal to put Celtic 2-0 up
Forrest tucked home to double Celtic’s advantage over Hearts in the Betfred Cup semi-final
The fact Celtic reached a third straight Betfred Cup Final under the watch of the Northern Irishman would have been remarkable in any event. Yet, they’d to dig so deep here in the capital that they might well have struck oil.
Already shorn of Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths, Rodgers lost his skipper’s replacement, Eboue Kouassi, after 26 minutes and another key midfield operative in Olivier Ntcham at the break.
What a replacement Ryan Christie made, though. The former Aberdeen loanee won the penalty which allowed Scott Sinclair to stroke home the opener, released the shot with allowed James Forrest to capitalise on calamitous goalkeeping by Zdenek Zlamal then scored a stunning third to remove any lingering doubt as to the outcome.
Hearts will wonder where it all went so horribly wrong. Having contained the Parkhead side for 45 minutes, the stage seemed set for them to come out swinging. Instead, they landed on the canvass and could not get back off it.
The early withdrawal of Steven Naismith through injury was certainly a factor bit did not entirely explain his they wilted so badly in the second period.
Cletic players celebrate with goalscorer Scott Sinclair after the forward’s penalty opener
Hearts’ Oliver Bozanic cuts a dejected figure after Scott Sinclair’s opener from the spot
Having bolstered their position at the top of the Premiership with a perfunctory win at Dundee on Tuesday, Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, was never likely to make wholesale changes here. Harry Cochrane and Callumn Morrison were relegated to the bench with Olly Lee and Peter Haring promoted.
The availability of Tom Rogic and James Forrest strengthened Brendan Rodgers’ staring 11. Filip Benkovic and Kristoffer Ajer formed a new-look central defensive partnership. Scott Bain continued his selection in goal in this competition.
After the most almighty hullabaloo over the staging of this game, what a backdrop Murrayfield made. Bathed in late autumn sunshine and hosting a near capacity crowd of 61, 161, the home of Scottish rugby made a compelling argument to see more days like this.
A reminder of the sport more normally seen here came in the opening minute. Contesting a high ball with Mikael Lustig, Steven MacLean initially appeared deserving of the yellow card Willie Collum brandished for catching the Swede with his elbow.
To the dismay of the Hearts support, the big screen replay, very much a quirk of the oval ball game, showed the offence to have been minimal.
Naismith was disappointed to have seen his afternoon cut short after only eight minutes
What a cruel blow Levein’s plans were dealt soon after. Worryingly, there appeared to be nowhere close to Naismith when he slumped to the turf clutching his knee. He hobbled around for a few seconds but knew he was in danger of matters worse. Danny Amankwaa was sprung from the bench just eight minutes in.
The pristine playing surface, exactly the same length and dimensions as Hampden, didn’t prevent the play being broken and error strewn. Rogic did out-smart Haring and Lee to play in Odsonne Edouard but Clévid Dikamona expertly ushered the ball out of play.
What little rhythm Celtic had was disrupted by the departure of Kouassi after 28 minutes. Sinclair climbed of the bench and Callum McGregor filled the holding midfield role.
Chances at either end were painfully slow to come by. Forrest was gifted a sight at goal when Ntcham’s corner was half-cleared but he fired weakly into Jimmy Dunne’s frame.
Lee did well to bound towards Celtic’s goal after picking up a loose ball 40 yards out but his dipping strike asked little of the static Bain.
It was a blow for boss Craig Levein having seen Naismith become the star performer in his side
Celtic defender Kieran Tierney bellowed instructions to his team-mates during an even match
Haring fared slightly better soon after by taking on a strike earlier with Benkovic’s timely block coming at the cost of a corner. The Austrian claimed the resultant set-piece with a towering header which MacLean bundled home from two yards only to be correctly flagged offside.
Hearts No 5 seemed to be everywhere at times. He did well to escape a yellow having clearly impeded Rogic and could only watch as Sinclair’s curling shot was tipped around the post by Zdenek Zlamal.
The end of a forgettable first-half was the end of the match for Ntcham. Christie replaced the Frenchman at the interval meaning Rodgers had lost the guts of his midfield. But within eight minutes, the former Inverness player’s presence would prove decisive.
Taking Sinclair’s pass on the half-turn just inside the box, Christie had no way of knowing Oliver Bozanic’s close proximity. The Australian’s contact was minimal but his lack of protest when Collum pointed to the spot was probably telling.
Sinclair broke his run but held his nerve to send Zlamal the wrong way from 12 yards.
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers went to Edinburgh with a 100 per cent domestic cups record
Attacking midfielder Tom Rogic was pinpointed as the key man for Celtic and he was busy
With that, the game became stretched. Edouard flashed a header over from Kieran Tierney’s cross, Rogic drilled a strike straight at the keeper with the outside of his left foot before Bozanic’s hopes of a quick redemption were snuffed out by Bain’s safe hands.
Staring at the action, Levein looked puzzled as how best to change the tide. By the time his Eureka moment arrived, his side were two goals down.
Taking a rebound off Dikamona in his stride, Christie’s low strike did take a slight deflection off Michael Smith. Not in a month of Sundays, though, should it have flummoxed Zlamal in the way it did. Forgetting the basics for an instant, the Czech took his eye off the ball and fumbled it along and towards his goal before scooping it back into play. Forrest couldn’t miss.
A nip and tuck affair suddenly threatened to become a rout. Christie’s claimed a sumptuous third 17 minutes from time after Edouard had cushioned a ball into his path. This time Zlamal was blameless as his left-footer arrowed into the postage stamp corner.
It was now a question of how many. Jimmy Dunne ensured the deficit remained just three by acrobatically splicing Edouard’s strike off the line before Zlamal produced excellent stops to deny Forrest and then Kieran Tierney.
In injury time, Sinclair was denied a second by Smith’s smart positioning on the line but it was to matter little.
Odsonne Edouard led the line for the Bhoys but found chances to be at a real premium
MURRAYFIELD MATCH FACTS
Hearts: Zlamal, Smith, Dikamona, Jimmy Dunne, Mitchell, Haring, Djoum, Lee, Bozanic, Naismith (Amankwaa 8), MacLean.
Subs not used: Clare, Doyle, Hughes, Garuccio, Cochrane, Morrison.
Celtic: Bain, Lustig, Benkovic, Ajer, Tierney, Kouassi (Sinclair 26), Ntcham (Christie 46), Forrest, Rogic, McGregor, Edouard.
Goals: Sinclair 53, Forrest 66, Christie 72
Subs not used: Gordon, Hendry, Hayes, Morgan, Ralston.
Referee: William Collum (Scotland)
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