Grant Murray hailed a deserved SFA Youth Cup semi-final win for his Hibs side as they defeated Celtic 4-2 on penalties after a goalless draw at Easter Road.
The young Hibees, who sit top of the SPFL Development League with two gmes remaining, will face Aberdeen in the final on Thursday, April 26 at Hampden.
“I thought we deserved it over the 90 minutes and probably extra time as well,” said Murray. “We were the dominant side. Celtic came in to for a spell but chance-wise we created a lot and on another night we tuck one away.
“We’ve got three games left now with two in the league and I’ve asked the players if they can go and win them. If they do, they get a league medal and a cup medal. It’s fantastic for them. I was fortunate enough myself to win the Youth Cup at that age and the reserve league. I’ve still got the medals so it’s something to look back on as a player.”
Celtic keeper Ross Doohan was called into action early when Fraser Murray tried to squeeze a low drive in at the near post, but the stopper was down sharply to tip it wide.
Murray was then denied twice with the goal at his mercy by excellent successive blocks by Robbie Deas and Stephen Welsh respectively.
The Hoops’ first attempt came via a free-kick from Michael Johnston. The wide man connected well enough, but Kevin Dabrowski was able to wave it over his crossbar.
Murray turned provider at the other when he he fired a low ball into the area after a partial Celtic clearance. Ryan Shanley tried to use the pace on Murray’s delivery to guide it on target, but couldn’t keep it down.
The No.11 had established himself as Hibs’ biggest threat by this stage, and was desperately unlucky to see his strike from Adam Watson’s pullback deflected on to the bar with Doohan well beaten.
It was then Celtic’s turn to be denied by the frame of the goal when Ewan Henderson – brother of ex-Hibs and Celtic midfielder Liam – deftly nudged Johnston’s low cross over Dabrowski, only for it to drop on to the bar rather than in.
A surge down the right wing from Hibs captain Ryan Porteous allowed the defender to float a wonderful ball into the back post that Shanley met with his head. It was on target, but diverted over by Deas before Doohan could react.
The second period began with Hibs still on the front foot, and they should have gone ahead when Porteous was afforded a free header from Donaldson’s set-piece delivery, but missed the target.
Murray again saw a chance go begging after taking a good first touch before volleying the ball straight down Doohan’s throat.
A rare attack from the visitors saw them spurn what was arguably the best opportunity of the game. Regan Hendry was slipped in behind, but showed none of the composure required and blazed over with only Dabrowski to beat.
Sub Paul Crossan then motored into the box and picked out Aitchison, who was denied by a great last-ditch block from Porteous.
Both were sensing a late winner, and Shaw should have netted one after taking a touch in space at the back post, but dragged his shot across goal agonisingly wide.
The striker then saw a flicked header brilliantly palmed away by Doohan in stoppage time, before the keeper blocked Murray’s rebound.
There was still time at the other end for Josh Campbell to prevent a certain Aitchison winner with yet more last-ditch defending.
That meant another 30 minutes, and Dabrowski produced a smart save to prevent Aitchison scoring within ten seconds of extra-time kicking off.
Calvin Miller then sent a vicious drive just wide via a deflection as Celtic found an impetus that had been absent for most of the second half.
Neither could find a way to prevent penalties, however. Dabrowski saved from Aitchison and Hendry either side of Doohan saving Waugh’s penalty, leaving Oli Shaw to send Hibs through.
Hibs: Dabrowski, Stirling, Donaldson, Porteous, Waugh, Campbell, Watson, I Murray, Shaw, Shanley (Woods 108), F Murray.
Celtic: Doohan, Duffy, Miller, Deas, Welsh (Bell 46), McInroy, Johnston (Watson 59), Hill, Aitchison, Hendry, Henderson (Crossan 84).