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  • Hoops endure Hampden heartache in League Cup semi-final

    Hoops endure Hampden heartache in League Cup semi-final

    By: Martin Dalziel on 31 Jan, 2016 16:56

  • Scottish League Cup semi-final
    Hampden Park
    Sunday, January 31, 2016

    (Woods 15, Quinn 48, Shalk 63)

    (Mackay-Steven 1)

    CELTIC’S treble hopes were extinguished in heart-breaking fashion at Hampden after they lost 3-1 to Ross County in the semi-final of the League Cup.

    The Hoops took a stunning lead through Gary Mackay-Steven inside 30 seconds but they were soon pegged back by Martin Woods from the penalty spot after Efe Ambrose saw red for a challenge on Alex Shalk in the Celtic box.

    The Celts held strong until the interval but an early second-half header from Paul Quinn put the Highlanders in the lead before Shalk’s close-range finish settled the game after the hour mark.

    Leigh Griffiths had a chance to pull his side back into the match when substitute Brian Graham handled in the box but the striker’s penalty was saved by Scott Fox, and the result saw County proceed to the final where they will take on Hibernian.

    It was a dramatic and controversial match that ultimately ended in disappointment for the Bhoys but they will now look to bounce back against Aberdeen in the league on Wednesday evening, where they could stretch their lead at the top of the SPFL Premiership to nine points.

    Ronny Deila made just one change to his team for his 100th match in charge following the 3-1 win over St Johnstone as the returning Dedryck Boyata replaced Jozo Simunovic in the centre of defence to pair up with Ambrose.

    Scott Brown won a place on the bench as he continues his return to fitness and he was joined by recent signing Erik Sviatchenko and young Celt, Aidan Nesbitt.

    Ross County kicked off but they were quickly dispossessed by the Celts which allowed the Hoops to spring the first attack of the match and take the lead inside 30 seconds.

    A clever through pass from Callum McGregor eliminated the County midfield and allowed Griffiths to race through on goal. The striker opted to slide the ball into the path of Mackay-Steven rather than shoot, and the winger fired past Scott Fox with his right foot to give the Celts a dream start.

    The Hoops kept up the pressure and they almost went two up when Ambrose had a header cleared off the line from a corner. The Nigerian had another header go wide before Ross County got their first shot of the game in, with Shalk testing Craig Gordon from distance.

    The Bhoys were dominant but the Highlanders were then handed a lifeline when the referee blew for a penalty after Shalk went down in the Celtic box under a challenge from Ambrose. Contact looked minimal but the decision was given and Martin Woods scored from the spot on 14 minutes to level the match.

    The Hoops were down to 10 men and were forced to take off McGregor, who had been influential early on, for Erik Sviatchenko to slot into the centre of defence.

    Celtic remained well in contention despite their numerical disadvantage and signalled their intent to get back in front with a curling shot from Stuart Armstrong that swerved just over the crossbar.

    County were dangerous on the break, however, and Kieran Tierney was forced into a string of runs up and down the left touchline to cover the space.

    Gordon had to save again from Woods, this time punching the midfielder’s squiggling shot to safety, but the Bhoys also had a chance to get back in front through a dangerous corner from Stefan Johansen which bobbled about in the County box but brave goalkeeping from Fox at the feet of Sviatchenko kept matters level at the interval after a pulsating first-half.

    Celtic emerged for the second-half before Ross County but their enthusiasm to get the game back underway was cut short just minutes after the restart when the Staggies took the lead in the game for the first time.

    The Highlanders won an early corner and Woods’ whipped cross found Davies free at the back post. The defender headed the ball back into the six yard box and it was nodded home by Paul Quinn.

    It was a nightmare start to the half for the champions, who could feel aggrieved at the goal standing as Gordon looked like he was being held back from attacking the ball. The Celtic keeper was booked for his protests.

    Mikael Lustig then followed him into the referee’s note book as the Bhoys continued to express their frustrations at a string of contentious decisions which went against them.

    Matters then went from bad to worse for the Celts when a quick breakaway from County saw the Highlanders go 3-1 up. Jackson Irvine’s quick pass found Woods in midfield. He then threaded a pass in to Shalk who controlled with his left and rifled a high shot past Gordon at the near post.

    Celtic replaced Nir Bitton with skipper Brown as they sought a way back into the game and and they got a golden chance to get back into the game when Graham was penalised for a handball in the County box 10 minutes from time. Leigh Griffiths, stepped up to take the kick but his low shot was saved by the knees of Fox. 

    Late drama engulfed the game with Gordon pulling out a great stop to deny Jackson Irvine and Fox also saving on the line from Griffiths, but Celtic’s late rally was in vain and the Hoops will now look to bounce back on Wednesday in their league clash with Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig, Ambrose, Boyata, Tierney; Bitton (Brown 67), Johansen; Mackay-Steven, McGregor (Sviatchenko 14), Armstrong (Forrest 79); Griffiths.
    Not used: Bailly, Izaguirre, Ciftci, Nesbitt

    ROSS COUNTY (4-4-2) Fox; Fraser, Quinn, Davies, Foster; Murdoch (Franks 28), McShane, Woods, Gardyne (Boyce 83); Shalk (Graham 71), Irvine.
    Not used: Woods, Reckord, Boyd, De Vita

    Website man of the match: Gary Mackay-Steven

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