Celtic make the final but will Rangers follow?
BRENDAN Rodgers was scathing of referee Kevin Clancy and his assistant Frank Connor for awarding the penalty which gave Hibs a way back into yesterday’s Betfred Cup semifinal against Celtic but praised his players for rising above it to book a place in next month’s final.
The Parkhead side might have been jaded from the midweek trip to Bayern Munich but they were 2-0 up and coasting when Dedryck Boyata was adjudged to have caught the on- rushing Martin Boyle in the corner of the box, even though he got enough on the ball to divert it wide.
Anthony Stokes duly converted the spot- kick as Hibs threatened an unlikely recovery but two goals from substitute Moussa Dembele, which added to an early Mikael Lustig double, were enough to see the job through, despite Oli Shaw’s first goal for the Easter Road club.
Recent history is littered with Celtic sides who have failed to show the same poise after apparently being dealt similar officiating injustices.
“There are two poor decisions,” said Rodgers. “One from the referee who is on his way back and then he is looking for help from the linesman who is facing it. How he gave the penalty I will never know.
“Any coach or manager will tell you t hat, particularly in t he showpiece games, you don’t want a decision to go against you because you don’t get the chance to come back again. There are no replays, it’s a one-off game. But it asked a question of us in terms of our composure and mentality and the players responded well to get the extra goals.”
The Northern Irishman conceded that his players had shown tiredness after their mid- week exertions. He made just two changes to his starting line-up, but paid tribute to the contribution of his substitutes, in particular Dembele, who channelled t he f r ustration of his recent hamstring issues into two goals.
Rodgers faces a similar balancing act when selecting his team for Wednesday’s top-of-the-table Premiership clash against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
“It was clear there was a bit of fatigue in our play but that was only natural,” he said. “When you have that it affects the technique. So I tip my hat to the players because it could have been a real banana skin for us today. When you win, it’s all OK. When you lose, people say ‘did you pick the right team?’ So thankfully we won and are into the final.
“Mou ss a was probably disappointed in the changing room afterwards, he thought he could have got a third one, but it shows the quality he has. When he is up there he is a goal threat, his finishes were exceptional and he has that physical presence in and around the box.
“At times Mika [Lustig] does a great job for me at centre-half but his best position is right full-back. He is getting almost prolific.”
Rodgers’ opposite number Neil Lennon saw the penalty decision differently. “Martin is quick and gets a toe to the ball. It is the first decision we get all day to be fair,” he said, adding that he was content that most of his players could hold their heads up high.
“There will be some who’ll have regrets about today,” said Lennon. “But the majority of them left everything out there, so that pleases me. They [Celtic] are just a little bit better in certain areas. I would rather lose the game 4-2 going for it than let the game peter out 3-2.”
Moussa Dembele celebrates after coming off the bench and scoring two goals to help Celtic book their return to Hampden next month for the Betfred Cup final