Adam Matthews' drive cools fire of Arbroath as Celtic creep through

Celtic's Adam Matthews, centre
Celtic's Adam Matthews celebrates his goal with Georgios Samaras during the Scottish Cup fourth-round replay at Arbroath. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA
Celtic's Adam Matthews celebrates his goal with Georgios Samaras during the Scottish Cup fourth-round replay at Arbroath. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA
at Gayfield Park
Wed 12 Dec 2012 16.44 EST

Arbroath failed to add a shock Scottish Cup exit to Celtic's list of unimpressive domestic results in this campaign. Still, this victory for the Scottish Premier League side against Second Division opposition was considerably closer than anybody wearing green and white would have preferred.

Celtic's second-half showing was particularly lacklustre. They have progressed to the last 16 of this event – and are still active in four competitions – but inconsistencies remain. Their Gayfield toils, most notably in the final third, were rendered especially notable by the names on their team sheet.

A home draw with Arbroath can be classed as part of Celtic's season of split personality. Neil Lennon has guided his team to the last 16 of the Champions League and Celtic have been rightly lauded for their performances in that environment. But, against Scottish opposition, there have been a string of inauspicious displays. It was a relieved Lennon on Wednesday: "It is a test of character to come here and win. It will be an eye-opener for some of the players. Winning games isn't easy. Everyone was here, including the cameras, to see if there was an upset. There was one last night with Arsenal in England, so I'm delighted that didn't happen to us."

Whether as a safeguard or otherwise, Lennon kept to his word of selecting a strong team. From Celtic's recognised first-choice side of late, only Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama started among the substitutes. Joe Ledley sat out completely as he nurses a hip problem, with Lennon retaining the 3-5-2 formation which proved so successful during Saturday's win at Kilmarnock.

Georgios Samaras had passed up a chance for the visitors before his strike partner, Lassad, had an effort ruled out for offside. During those early exchanges, it actually appeared as though Arbroath's fine playing surface could undermine their hopes of upsetting their more illustrious opponents. Arbroath did offer a 17th-minute warning, as Kelvin Wilson was forced to block a curling effort from Paul Sheerin, the hosts' player-manager.

Celtic's reply was immediate and decisive. Adam Matthews robbed Colin Hamilton of the ball, charged forward and lashed an excellent shot into Scott Morrison's top corner. It marked not only a memorable strike but the Welshman's first goal for Celtic, more than a year after he arrived in Glasgow from Cardiff City.

At this juncture, the only concern for the SPL champions was the regular sound and view of smoke bombs from their section of the support. Celtic had warned their fans over the use of such devices before this game, with the ignoring of that warning both unwise and unsafe.

Celtic should have all but settled matters before the break. Charlie Mulgrew flighted a cute pass to the feet of Samaras, who in turn fed Lassad just six yards from goal. The Tunisian mis-hit his shot, however, in allowing Morrison to make a reasonably comfortable block. It would not have been lost on Lassad's manager that such wastefulness was largely responsible for Celtic requiring a midweek trip to the Angus coast in the first place.

Arbroath triggered a moment of panic in the Celtic defence within four minutes of the restart, as Stuart Malcolm narrowly failed to connect properly with a Sheerin free-kick. Malcolm was to receive a booking for his follow-up challenge on Celtic's goalkeeper, Fraser Forster. At the opposite end, Scott Brown screwed wide after Morrison had punched Mulgrew's set piece to the feet of the Celtic captain.

Another Arbroath opening was to follow. Sheerin was again the creator, with a cross which Lee Sibanda was set to meet at the back post. Instead, Emilio Izaguirre headed clear; Arbroath had the ball in the net from the resultant corner, only for the referee to judge there had been an earlier foul on Forster. Perhaps jolted by that – and Celtic's glaring lack of creativity – Lennon sent for Hooper and Wanyama. Izaguirre and the ineffectual Lassad made way.

Still, Arbroath's best hope of an equaliser was still to come. Connor Birse, with his first meaningful action after entering the fray as a replacement, was sent through on goal but watched his attempt saved by the feet of Forster. One goal was thereby sufficient for Celtic. But this was both deeply unconvincing and a reminder that Champions League success offers no guarantee of a similarly sure touch on the domestic front.

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