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  Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 19:28 GMT
Celtic end Ayr's cup dream
Henrik Larsson opens the scoring for Celtic
Henrik Larsson opens the scoring for Celtic
Ayr United 0-3 Celtic

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Three second-half goals saved Celtic's blushes as they struggled to subdue underdogs Ayr United in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup.

Two goals from Alan Thompson and another by Henrik Larsson separated sides a million miles apart in terms of resources and previous achievements.

Battling First Division Ayr gave the Scottish champions a fright but were once again left pondering what might have been.

Defeat came six days after an impressive first half was followed by a 4-0 reverse at the hands of Rangers in the CIS Insurance Cup final.

Alan Thompson celebrates after scoring twice
Celtic's Alan Thompson scored a double
United manager Gordon Dalziel had forwards Scott Crabbe and Eddie Annand back again after being unavailable for Sunday's trip to Hampden Park.

Former Falkirk and Hearts striker Crabbe got the nod, with Brian McLauglin dropping down to the bench alongside Annand.

Neil Lennon and Bobo Balde returned for Celtic, despite their deputies having swept aside Motherwell with an awesome 4-0 victory in midweek.

Ayr were not overawed and John Robertson tested goalkeeper Rab Douglas early on with a low drive from the edge of the box.

John Hartson twice came close for Celtic, one drive going a couple of yards over and another slipping across the face of the goal.

Steve Guppy had held his place in the Celtic line-up ahead of available-again Alan Thompson but had to relinquish his place through injury after 28 minutes.

Celtic looked uncomfortable after that and James Grady came close to giving Ayr a surprise lead.

The striker capitalised on a lack of communication between Balde and Douglas to nip between the two Celtic men but poked the ball just wide from the edge of the box.

Midfielder Paul Sheerin was next to threaten and his powerful effort from 22 yards was beaten away by Douglas.

Ayr had paid for losing a goal just before the break against Rangers.

Their joy at surviving the whole 45 minutes this time was short-lived as Celtic made the breakthrough three minutes after the break.

Stilian Petrov holds off Ayr's Marvyn Wilson
Stilian Petrov holds off Marvyn Wilson
Larsson had already struck a warning after heading just wide after being left unmarked to meet a Thompson cross.

His goal was made down the other flank, Didier Agathe beating Paul Lovering to the bye-line before crossing low for Larsson to sweep the ball home at the near post.

Ayr were not beaten yet and Robertson rose to meet a Lovering cross and powered a header a couple of yards over.

Grady came closer still with a turn and shot from 12 yards that struck the underside of the Celtic bar.

The striker forced Douglas into a superb, one-handed save with a drive from the edge of the box.

But Celtic killed the game when Thompson bent in a 25-yard free-kick off the underside of the bar with 10 minutes remaining.

The Englishman put the icing on the cake in the final moments with a lovely, curling shot into the other corner of the net.

Celtic: Douglas, Mjallby, Balde, Crainey, Agathe, Lambert, Petrov (McNamara 84), Lennon, Guppy (Thompson 29), Hartson, Larsson. Subs Not Used: Gould, Boyd, Moravcik.

Booked: Thompson.

Goals: Larsson 49, Thompson 81, 88.

Ayr: Nelson, Robertson, Hughes, Duffy, Craig, Lovering, McGinlay, Wilson (McLaughlin 83), Sheerin, Crabbe (Annand 67), Grady. Subs Not Used: Dodds, McEwan, Sharp.

Booked: Wilson.

Attendance: 26,774

Referee: S Dougal

BBC Scotland's Alastair Alexander
"Gallant performance by Ayr, but it's Celtic through to the cup final"
Celtic manager Martin O'Neill
"All three goals were terrific"
Ayr Utd manager Gordon Dalziel
"We created a lot of chances against a class side"
Ayr defender John Hughes
"We did give them a fright, we can be proud"
See also:

23 Mar 02 |  Scottish Cup
O'Neill hands Ayr the plaudits
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