Phil McGhee at Hampden Park
Stephen Robinson and his Motherwell side were denied a fairytale ending to their terrific cup run when favourites Celtic produced two goals early in the second half to claim the Betfred Cup.
The scoreline only tells part of the story as the Fir Park men more than matched the much fancied Parkhead side, only to get caught cold at the start of the second half when James Forrest squeezed his side in front.
However, Moussa Dembele’s second before the hour mark, from a highly controversial penalty award which also saw Cedric Kipre red carded, killed the tie.
Confident that they could upset the odds, the ‘Well boss stood by the same starting team that won at Aberdeen, and in the same formation, with Chris Cadden playing in front of a midfield three and supporting Louis Moult and Ryan Bowman.
That shaped the first half with the Steelmen tactically astute and determined to nullify Celtic’s threat. That left the Parkhead men with plenty of possession in the middle of the park but Trevor Carson was seldom troubled in the first 45 minutes.
Indeed it was 30 minutes before the ‘Well ‘keeper was forced into his first save – routinely gathering a weak Moussa Dembele header.
Until then there was nothing of real note, except both sets of fans poignantly sharing a minute’s applause for Phil O’Donnell in the 10th minute.
At the other end, Craig Gordon was equally quiet, despite Richard Tait swinging a series of tempting crosses into the visitors’ box. The ‘Well full back also found himself with half a chance when Charles Dunne’s cross found its way to him but his angled drive flashed over the bar.
Ten minutes from half time, the Celtic ‘keeper made his first save, stretching to take Moult’s dipping free kick from under his crossbar.
While Motherwell took the half time plaudits for their disciplined first 45, it took Celtic only three minutes to break the deadlock in the second. Forrest was allowed to cut in from the corner of the box and from 15 yards he delicately curled the ball beyond the diving Carson inside the ‘keeper’s right hand post.
If that was a blow to the Steelmen their response was immediate. Craig Tanner came off the bench to immediately send Andy Rose to the byline. And when his cross found the onrushing Moult, his powerful header seemed destined for an equaliser until Gordon, with a stunning reaction, beat the ball away with his forearm.
In the next attack, ‘Well had appeals for a penalty turned down after Kieran Tierney barged into Moult as the striker raced to get on the end of a Tanner pass across goal.
However, minutes later referee Craig Thomson did award a penalty. But it was in Celtic’s favour, much to Motherwell’s amazement and anger. AlthoughKipre was in close to Scott Sinclair as he burst into the box, it was insufficient to bring the Celtic striker tumbling to the ground.
After pointing to the penalty spot, the referee further infuriated the ‘Well players by showing Kipre a red card. As the Fir Park defender headed up the Hampden tunnel, Dembele confidently fired the spot kick beyond Carson to put Celtic in the driving seat.
With the extra man, Celtic created a number of chances in the latter stages but Carson was determined to restrict them to a two goal advantage. In particular the ‘keeper produced some stunning saves to block Stuart Armstrong, a Leigh Griffiths free kick and especially to deny Sinclair from four yards.
Motherwell, though, never gave up the chase and 12 minutes from time Tait’s free kick found Moult, but his downward header was smothered by Gordon.
In injury time the competition’s top scorers were denied the consolation goal their efforts deserved, when Moult curled a free kick beyond the defensive wall and the ‘keeper, only to see it rebound from the post.
The ‘Well fans remained buoyant and in good voice until the final whistle to acknowledge the team’s memorable cup run which started and concluded at Hampden.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Hampden Park
FT : Motherwell 0 – 2 Celtic
Ten man Motherwell lose to a second half Forrest goal and Dembele penalty.
There will be two minutes added on.
88′ | 0-2
Celtic sub, Rogic on for McGregor
88′ | 0-2
Roberts comes in off the left and his cross/shot is knocked over the bar by Griffiths.
80′ | 0-2
Griffiths is through 1v1 but makes a mess of the finish, striking the post with only Carson to beat.
78′ | 0-2
Chance! Tanner’s free-kick is headed towards goal by Moult but Gordon makes the stop.
78′ | 0-2
Celtic sub, Roberts on for Forrest
70′ | 0-2
Motherwell sub, Frear on for Rose.
64′ | 0-2
Motherwell sub, Campbell on for Bowman
59′ | 0-2
Goal – Dembele fires the penalty straight down the middle.
58′ | 0-1
Penalty to Celtic and a red card for Kipré who was judged to have pulled Sinclair’s shirt.
55′ | 0-1
Celtic have a corner and Dembele heads wide of the post.
53′ | 0-1
Chance!! Rose fires a great ball across goal and somehow Gordon manages to get a hand to Bowman’s powerful header.
50′ | 0-1
Motherwell sub, Tanner on for Grimshaw
49′ | 0-1
Goal – Celtic take the lead after Forrest came in off the left and slotted past Carson
Goalless first 45 with a couple of half chances for each side. Let’s see what the second half brings.
HT: Motherwell 0 – 0 Celtic
43′ | 0-0
Armstrong with a poor effort, curling well over the bar from 25 yards.
41′ | 0-0
Brilliant ball in by Tait which again is headed away just before Moult. It falls as far as Cadden but he can only poke a shot wide of the post.
35′ | 0-0
Bowman goes down after a forearm from Simunovic. Free-kick about 30 yards out in a central area….. great effort by Moult! Gets it over the wall but Gordon gets across to make the save.
31′ | 0-0
Ball into the back post area which Dembele heads tamely at Carson.
29′ | 0-0
Cadden with a great ball into the box but Simunovic gets his head to it just before Moult.
25′ | 0-0
Chance!! Dunne hooks in a cross to the edge of the box which Tait drills just over the bar.
18′ | 0-0
Great last-ditch challenge there by McHugh to clear from Forrest. Leads to a corner but it’s defended by the Steelmen
16′ | 0-0
From that free-kick, Hartley sends a header looping wide of the post.
15′ | 0-0
Dembele booked for a wild tackle on McHugh.
11′ | 0-0
Half a chance as Tait puts in a good deep ball but it just didn’t quite fall for Cadden on the edge of the box and Celtic clear.
7′ | 0-0
Tait blocks Sinclair’s cross which leads to the first corner of the game…..headed away to safety by Hartley
5′ | 0-0
A sniff of goal there for Dembele but thankfully the linesman’s flag goes up straight away.
McHugh gets the game underway. COYW!!!