A solitary headed goal from Jota towards the end of the first-half saw Celtic take a massive step towards a record-breaking 8th domestic treble, as Rangers were dumped out of the Scottish Cup.
The superstar from Portugal stole in unnoticed at the far post to score the games only goal three minutes before the interval following an inch perfect cross from Daizen Maeda. Celtic are now unbeaten in 6 games against Rangers, and 90 minutes away from an historic 8th treble.
With the League Cup already won and the League now looking like a formality, the Scottish Cup represents the final leg of what would be an incredible treble achievement.
The news that Jota, Hatate, and Abada were all available for selection after injury gave Celtic a pre-match boost, however the latter would miss eventually miss out. On the other side of the fence, Rangers knew that victory today was their only hope of salvaging another dismal campaign.
Jota – The Superstar from Portugal
Celtic made a bright start as the smoke from the pyro displays at either end of Hampden Park lifted. An early pass from Kyogo released Maeda through the middle inside 5 minutes only for a heavy touch to let the forward down.
Kyogo was then on the receiving end of a couple of hefty challenges, first from Lundstram and then Davies. Neither player saw yellow despite the obvious intent to foul the Celtic striker and put him out of the game.
Once the game calmed down a little, clear chances were few and far between. O’Riley and McGregor were controlling the midfield, with the returning Hatate more subdued than normal. While at the other end, Rangers posed very little threat to Joe Hart’s goal; Morelos and Kent barely making any impact of note in the opening half hour.
Maeda was proving to be a constant menace on the left. His pace and pressing abilities keeping Tavernier occupied and nullifying Rangers attacking options.
7 minutes before the break Maeda delivered a pinpoint cross from the left for Jota, only to see the Portuguese miss his touch and the chance go begging.
Four minutes later the duo combined again, this time to devastating effect.
A quick freekick from Callum McGregor released Matt O’Riley on the right who looked to take on Nicolas Raskin. The Belgian appeared to foul O’Riley on the edge of the box however Don Robertson, the only man in the ground not to see the foul, allowed play to go on.
With the Rangers backline frozen, expecting the freekick to be called, Maeda pounced on the loose ball and sent a cross towards the far post where Jota was on hand to head home.
It was a goal that typified the ‘We Never Stop’ mantra, and it drained the life out of Rangers.
Playing for their season, Rangers gave it their all in the second half; Cantwell even denied Hatate a drink from a water bottle to gain that ‘competitive edge’. It didn’t matter.
Cameron Carter-Vickers, the Celtic Behemoth as one commentor described him the in post-match show, was imperious. Nothing got passed the American who put his body on the line to keep Rangers at bay.
On the rare occasion Carter-Vickers didn’t make the block either Carl Starfelt or Joe Hart stepped up to do it for him. Rangers gave it their everything, but bar one glaring miss from Fashion Sakala, they failed to truly trouble Celtic.
The introductions of Mooy and Hatate on 65 minutes saw Celtic regain any lost advantage in midfield and while their opponents huffed and puffed, Celtic retained an attacking threat of their own.
In the end, the one goal was enough. Celtic’s determined and winning mentality saw them through and delt another psychological blow to the Michael Beale myth machine.
On the 3rd June, Celtic will return to Hampden Park to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle knowing that they are 90 minutes away from Treble number 8.