Arbroath 0 Celtic 1: Bhoys made to weather their luck in frosty battle to reach fifth round
23:26 GMT, 12 December 2012
For Celtic, an evening spent at Gayfield in the bleak midwinter was about as far removed from the heady glamour of the Champions League as is possible.
It was a midweek assignment in which the white heat of European success gave way to the bitter chill of the Angus coast.
Just seven days after the fanfare of seeing off Spartak Moscow to reach the knockout phase of the elite competition, Neil Lennon’s side arrived in Arbroath with more mundane ambitions.
Party time: Adam Matthews scored the only goal as Celtic beat Arbroath
Arbroath: Morrison, Baxter, Hamilton, Malcolm, Keddie, Sibanda (Rennie 73), Kerr (Birse 76), Currie, Scott Robertson, Sheerin (Holmes 76), Doris.
Subs Not Used: Bullock, Gribben.
Booked: Kerr, Malcolm, Scott Robertson.
Celtic: Forster, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew, Matthews (McGeouch 90), Izaguirre (Wanyama 65), Brown, Kayal, Samaras, Nouioui (Hooper 65), Lustig.
Subs Not Used: Zaluska, Miku.
Booked: Mulgrew, Samaras.
Goal: Matthews 18.
Ref: Craig Charleston (Scotland).
Who could have thought, then, that reaching the last 16 of the Scottish Cup would tax Celtic just as much as entering that stage of the Champions League That was, however, pretty much how it panned out for the SPL leaders over the course of a nerve-jangling replay.
A stunning first-half strike by Adam Matthews — his first goal for the club — ultimately secured a fifth-round visit to Raith Rovers in early February, but this was a deeply unconvincing display against Second Division opponents.
Arbroath pounded forward after the break and will point to a Steven Doris goal chalked off for what referee Craig Charleston deemed to be an earlier infringement on Fraser Forster. The Celtic goalkeeper, whose outstanding displays have been so vital in Europe, suddenly looked fragile in the face of the admirable efforts from Paul Sheerin’s side.
With others wobbling in front of Forster, it was little wonder Lennon spent much of the second period stomping around his technical area in a state of apoplexy.
All of this could, of course, have been avoided had a re-jigged Celtic line-up displayed a more clinical edge in the first match 11 days ago. In the end, relief would have been the over-riding emotion as they headed back south to prepare for Saturday’s SPL assignment against St Mirren.
Arbroath retire from the competition with pride intact. Chairman John Christison revealed pre-match the club had been sent a good-luck message by Jimmy Tarbuck. Apparently, the comedian spent a brief time training at Gayfield in the 1960s when staging a show in the area.
The unlikely celebrity endorsement did not inspire a famous Cup victory but Arbroath can reflect happily on a most profitable 2012.
A fourth-round tie with Rangers back in January earned enough money to purchase pitch covers which, in turn, ensured last night’s replay could defy the cold snap and land the club an 82,500 cheque from Sky Sports. The combined income from these games should, indeed, be enough to sustain them for the next two years.
Letting fly: Matthews fired home a stunning goal in the first half
Lennon had vowed to field a strong side after his fringe players malfunctioned in the initial tie and proved as good as his word. Only three players who started then — Matthews, Efe Ambrose and Scott Brown — were part of a 3-5-2 line-up last night. The emphasis was on getting the ball wide to try to capitalise on the aerial strength of Georgios Samaras and Lassad Nouioui up front.
It was a tactic that initially looked effective. Lassad, who had peeled off towards the right touchline, crossed to picked out Samaras but the Greek’s header was too close to Arbroath goalkeeper Scott Morrison.
Samaras attempted to return the favour, only to find his Tunisian sidekick in an offside position when he tucked the ball over the line.
Then, with 17 minutes gone, came a passage of play that defined the opening period. Arbroath managed to work the ball into the Celtic area, with player-manager Sheerin hitting a fierce shot that may well have been goalbound but for the head of Kelvin Wilson.
Fury: Arbroath's Steven Doris finds the net but the whistle had sounded already for a foul
The centre-half’s bravery was promptly rewarded when the visitors swept downfield to open the scoring in spectacular fashion. Wing-back Matthews robbed Arbroath left-back Colin Hamilton and charged goalwards, reaching the angle of the area before exploding a strike off his right boot and into the top corner of the net. After 18 months — and 62 appearances — without a goal for Celtic, this duck-breaker was worth the wait.
The goal was also a cue for further smoke bombs to be let off by visiting fans behind Forster’s goal, in defiance of a warning issued about their use on the Parkhead club’s website.
Celtic really should have doubled their lead on 33 minutes when Charlie Mulgrew swept a typically pin-point, cross-field pass into the path of Samaras. He then laid the ball on a plate for Lassad, who could only mis-hit what should have been a given straight at Morrison. Lennon looked less than pleased. It was, after all, precisely that kind of lax finishing that landed his team with this match in the first place.
As the second half opened, instead of confirming their superiority, the SPL champions found themselves under sustained pressure.
Battle: Celtic were made to fight all the way by Arbroath to reach the fifth round of the Scottish Cup
A Sheerin free-kick caused panic inside the visitors’ area, with Forster producing the first of several flaps. Stuart Malcolm challenged as the ball broke loose but ended up in referee Charleston’s book for fouling the England squad man.
Sheerin’s deliveries were consistently productive for Arbroath. Emilio Izaguirre was forced to head out a cross to prevent Lee Sibanda from netting before controversy arrived in the 63rd minute.
Sheerin whipped a corner into the goalmouth area and Doris — who scored at Parkhead — eventually poked the ball into the net. The goal was chalked off, however, apparently for a foul by Alex Keddie on the unconvincing Forster, who should have perhaps punched the ball instead of trying to gather.
Sibanda then had a drive blocked at the near post, before the Celtic keeper was forced to make amends.
Arbroath substitute Connor Birse had a shot on target with his first touch after being sent clean through, only for Forster to divert it wide with his legs.
Unlikely as it might seem, the final whistle could not come quickly enough for the Parkhead side.