Celtic hero Joe Hart earns the praise of Brendan Rodgers

By Sports Desk April 20, 2024

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers praised Joe Hart’s mentality after his goalkeeper sealed a Scottish Gas Scottish Cup final place despite missing a penalty.

The Hampden crowd thought they had seen it all following a dramatic 3-3 draw between Celtic and Aberdeen, until Hart stepped up to take his side’s fifth penalty of the shoot-out at 4-3 up.

The former England goalkeeper, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Friday, hit the post himself before Aberdeen took the game into sudden death.

But Hart had the final say by saving Killian Phillips’ spot-kick to earn a 6-5 shoot-out win and set himself up to close the curtain on his career with a final against Rangers or Hearts on May 25.

Rodgers said: “We were going through it in the last couple of days and he was one of the designated takers, for the fifth one.

“I think he is trying to get it as wide as he can, he sees their goalkeeper (Kelle Roos) is injured, he is trying to move him as much as he can in the goal.

“But he lets it go and comes up and makes the crucial save for us.

“Joe is very upbeat and positive. I always say to players to take risks, and he is a very good penalty taker, we see it in training.

“He has taken it, he has missed it, but he didn’t get down on himself, and ended up being the hero.”

An afternoon of drama started in two minutes when Bojan Miovski fired Aberdeen ahead.

Nicolas Kuhn levelled after stand-in Aberdeen skipper Angus MacDonald was caught in possession and James Forrest looked to have won the game for Celtic after scoring 90 seconds after coming off the bench.

But Ester Sokler headed home in the 90th minute and MacDonald equalised in the 119th minute from a near identical goal after Matt O’Riley had fired Celtic back in front in extra-time.

Rodgers, who maintained his perfect Hampden record on his 10th visit, said: “It was a fantastic game. I said to the players, we don’t need football sessions over the next couple of days, we need therapy sessions after that. It will stand us in good stead going forward.

“Listen, it is part of the game, if you don’t close it out, then that can happen.

“We had to put it to one side, once we went to extra-time, and then didn’t quite see it through and then you have to focus on penalties, and what we worked on in the last couple of days. The players just had to commit to their side of the goal and they did that very well.”

Peter Leven missed the chance to lead Aberdeen out at Hampden in his final game as caretaker manager before the summer arrival of Jimmy Thelin, but his introduction of Sokler and Junior Hoillet, who set up two goals, sparked much of the drama.

Leven said: “The boys were brilliant and gave us everything. We had very good chances against a very good Celtic team. I am gutted but proud of the boys.”

Aberdeen had two notable penalty claims, once when Liam Scales was ruled to have handled just outside the box and a later one when Hoilett was felled by Cameron Carter-Vickers only to be penalised for an aerial challenge seconds earlier.

Leven said: “The fourth official said to me ‘it’s a penalty but there might have been a collision before that’, so they were checking that first. They gave the foul.”

Hart was not the only goalkeeper to be at the centre of drama in the shoot-out. Roos went down and needed treatment after the first seven penalties were scored, before Ryan Duncan hit the post following a long delay to set up Hart’s first chance to win it.

“I think he got cramp,” Leven said of his keeper. “We were trying to tell Ryan to get away from Joe Hart, I don’t know if Joe Hart was trying to get into his head. But two academy graduates, Ryan Duncan and Jack Milne, stepping up to take a penalty; I am proud of them.”

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