Hoops' sights on treble after Rangers are swatted aside
Celtic 2 Rangers 0
Celtic swatted Rangers aside yesterday in this Scottish Cup semi-final and are now within a single blow of the treble of domestic honours.
Such was Celtic's superiority in the first-half at Hampden that the interval statistics showed the possession ratio to be 3:1 in their favour and the contest - insofar as that description could be applied - resembled a boxing fight in which one opponent could barely lay a glove on the other.
In truth, Rangers were simply impotent once Callum McGregor put Celtic ahead after 11 minutes.
The midfielder was supplied with a neat prompt by Moussa Dembele, but his task was also made simpler by the fact Andy Halliday failed to track his push upfield and was a distant spectator as the Hoops man finished by passing the ball elegantly into the far corner of the net.
Celtic did not double their advantage until after the break, but the interim included a significant period during which the Parkhead side were reduced to 10 men by Dembele's enforced absence.
The striker, who sustained a hamstring injury against Dundee, suffered a recurrence which forced him to limp off midway through the first-half.
Leigh Griffiths had to wait fully seven minutes before a break in play allowed him entry to the field, but despite having a spare man Rangers could not force Craig Gordon into meaningful action.
Their inability to cause problems was further emphasised after Pedro Caixinha made changes at the break, replacing Halliday and Joe Garner with Barrie McKay and Joe Dodoo.
It was a gambler's throw, but the brief encouragement afforded Rangers by their subs led directly to the second goal, as the Ibrox side was skewered by a lancing Celtic counter-attack in which Griffiths bolted half the length of the field to be taken down by James Tavernier just inside the box.
Scott Sinclair converted the penalty, although Wes Foderingham got a glove to the ball only to see it spin off his right-hand post and into the net.
Those of an optimistic bent among the Ibrox faithful might eke a little consolation from the late flurry, in which Rangers summoned four decent efforts to make Gordon work a little for his wage. However, for a question that confounds greater hope, one has only to ask how many of Caixinha's players would make it into the Celtic squad.
With the possible exception of Kenny Miller, the brutal answer is that none possess the necessary quality.
The questions raised by that gulf can be addressed in the longer term. In the meantime, the last challenge to Celtic's hegemony this season will be posed by Aberdeen, when the teams meet in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden on May 27.
"It was one of the best team performances we've had all season. We've reached the final now, and hopefully we can get the Cup," said Sinclair.
"Before the game, we said that if we set out the first 10 minutes at 100 per cent, kept the ball and created chances, there was no doubt that we would win the game.
"We didn't play our best football in the last derby, so today we had to put it right, and we did, but we've got to keep doing what we've been doing, take every game as it comes, and hopefully we can carry it right on until the end of the season.
"That's the team belief and the winning mentality the manager has instilled. Every time we step on to the pitch, we give it 100 per cent, no slacking, get results, and keep winning games.
"It goes right through the squad and it's great to be a part of it.
"It's always much sweeter to do it against your rivals, but we go into the final now and have to make sure we do it again."