Published: 31/01/2016 16:51 - Updated: 31/01/2016 18:04

Three-goal Ross County see off Celtic to book League Cup Final spot

Written byJamie Durent

Ross County defender Paul Quinn.
Ross County defender Paul Quinn netted on his second County debut.

ROSS County will play in their first cup final in six years after seeing off League Cup holders Celtic 3-1.

Jim McIntyre's side, big outsiders in the clash at a rain-soaked and rutted Hampden Park, were worthy winners of this semi-final with goals from Martin Woods, Paul Quinn and Alex Schalk.

It means the Staggies will lock horns with Hibernian back at the national stadium in six weeks' time as they seek their first piece of major silverware.

The early problems, however, were all County's as slack defending allowed Leigh Griffiths and Gary Mackay-Steven to break clear, the latter putting the holders in front inside a minute.

Luck often plays a part in cup fairytales and County got their slice when Efe Ambrose was sent off for bringing down Schalk with the slightest of touches. Woods dispatched the resulting penalty.

When Quinn headed County in front at the start of the second half, Dingwall hearts dared to dream and Schalk's powerful effort put the icing on the cake for the Final-bound Staggies.

Scott Fox still had time to deny Griffiths from the spot and cement his side's place in the competition's climax in March.

McIntyre was bold in his team selection for the game, made three changes from the side that won 2-1 at Motherwell eight days ago. Out came Scott Boyd, Brian Graham and Jonathan Franks, with Quinn handed his second debut for the club at the back. Woods and Stewart Murdoch also came in.

Big decisions faced the Staggies manager before kick-off, whether to risk top scorer Liam Boyce who only this week returned to full training after having a cast off his hand. He admitted too that throwing Quinn into the fray, considering he has had no football since Boxing Day, would be a gamble. But McIntyre rolled the dice on the experienced centre-half, pairing him with club skipper Andrew Davies.

However it was Davies that was caught out after just 26 seconds as Callum McGregor nipped in ahead of him to find Leigh Griffiths. He bore down on Scott Fox and could have finished himself, instead unselfishly laying on a simple pass for Mackay-Steven to tap in.

County's defence was rocking and Celtic were finding plenty of early gaps. The Dingwall club were fortunate that Richard Foster had dropped back on to the line with five minutes gone, otherwise Ambrose's header could have doubled Celtic's advantage.

There was some early life in the underdogs. Schalk gave County some much needed respite with a snap-shot that Craig Gordon did well to claw away.

The turning point came on 13 minutes when Schalk escaped the attentions of Mikael Lustig to sneak on to a Woods pass. Ambrose, playing catch-up, brushed the heel of the Dutchman who went down. Referee Craig Thomson pointed straight to the spot and Ambrose's punishment was not done, seeing red for his troubles.

With regular spot-kick takers Boyce and Craig Curran not involved, it was left up to Woods to send Gordon the wrong way from the spot and restore parity.

McIntyre's side grew into the game more and Woods' goal clearly gave them belief that the champions were there for the taking. A dipping effort from the influential Woods from the edge of the area forced Gordon to parry as the Staggies were increasingly given more time on the ball.

Fox had to be brave before the break to keep his side level, scrambling at the feet of Nir Bitton to block his effort before taking a knee to the face from substitute Erik Sviatchenko.

All that was missing from that period in the ascendancy was a goal. That was rectified three minutes into the second half.

Woods' corner went deep where Davies, on the retreat, steered it back into the danger area. Powering on to it unmarked was Quinn, steering in his second vital header against Celtic this season.

When the third goal came just after the hour it was no less than the vibrant County deserved. Woods, who delivered a majestic performance in the middle of the park, slid through Schalk and his left-footed strike found the roof of the net.

Limited opportunities were going Celtic's way but fortune appeared to turn in their favour with 15 minutes to go as Brian Graham was harshly judged to have handled Stefan Johansen's corner. All the signs were pointing to it being County's day though, with Fox blocking Griffiths' effort with his legs.

There was still time for Jackson Irvine to see a shot well blocked by Gordon but it mattered little, with County seeing out the remaining minutes for their date with Hibernian.

ROSS COUNTY: Fox; Fraser, Quinn, Davies, Foster, Gardyne (Boyce, 83), Irvine, McShane, M. Woods, Murdoch (Franks, 28), Schalk (Graham, 71). Subs unused: G. Woods, Reckord, Boyd, De Vita. Booked: Murdoch, Fraser, McShane, M. Woods.

CELTIC: Gordon; Lustig, Ambrose, Boyata, Tierney, Bitton (Brown, 67), Johansen, Armstrong (Forrest, 79), McGregor (Sviatchenko, 14), Mackay-Steven, Griffiths. Subs unused: Bailly, Izaguirre, Nesbitt, Ciftci. Booked: Lustig. Sent off: Ambrose, Johansen, Griffiths.

Referee: C. Thomson.

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