Stokes to fore as Bhoys stroll into final
The background noise at Hampden Park was the rumble of a fleet of bulldozers pushing heaps of misfortune into place, ready to bury Aberdeen.
After 17 minutes their work was done, although it took a little longer for Celtic to confirm their meeting with Motherwell in the Scottish Cup final on May 21.
Celtic came into the game with an aggregate score of 17-1 in their favour in meetings with Aberdeen this season. The Dons' chances of beating the odds reduced sharply when Andy Considine challenged Gary Hooper from behind as the Celtic forward pushed into the Aberdeen box. Down went Hooper and out came the red card as Willie Collum not only awarded a penalty kick but declared that the foul prevented a scoring opportunity.
Considine protested bitterly, but TV replays were more supportive of Collum's decision than the player's complaint. The drama of the moment had not played itself out, as Jamie Langfield demonstrated by blocking Anthony Stokes' penalty kick.
Even so, everyone in the stadium understood that Aberdeen were now in deep trouble and that Considine's dismissal spelt the end of the open and entertaining contest that had unfolded until that moment. "To lose not just the penalty kick but also a player for the rest of the game is a harsh punishment against the best passing team in the country," said Craig Brown, the Aberdeen manager.
Neil Lennon, too, had sympathy for Considine. "I think when it's not a deliberate foul they should look at the rule about a red card," he said. "Andrew's stretching for it and he's trying to make a legitimate challenge for the ball, but the rules of the game say that Gary's clean through and the tackling player has to go."
Celtic's opening goal came early in the second half and it meant one-way traffic for the remainder. Three minutes after the restart, Charlie Mulgrew hung a free kick towards Langfield's back post in hope of finding Stokes. The Dubliner jumped but the ball just eluded his head. However, Stokes' movement confused Langfield and the ball plopped straight into the net.
In an instant, Aberdeen's status shifted from that of a team defying fortune obdurately to the look of a side who were in for another bad beating. Sure enough, the second goal followed in short order when Stokes released Joe Ledley for a sleek first time shot low past Langfield and before the midway point of the half Celtic had another penalty kick.
Stokes won it, but he was not given a second chance to net from the spot, Kris Commons converting this time.
Shaun Maloney completed the scoring with a tap-in after a sweet move with six minutes left. "It could have been an awkward afternoon but in the end it was a game full of bonuses," said Lennon. "We told the players to treat it like a league game -- a must-win occasion -- and they did." (© Daily Telegraph, London)