Brendan Rodgers praised ”sensational” substitute Ryan Christie after he inspired Celtic to a 3-0 Scottish League Cup semi-final win over Hearts.
Christie, 23, took over from midfielder Olivier Ntcham at half-time following an uneventful first half at Murrayfield and made his first impact in the 53rd minute when he was tripped inside the box by Gorgie midfielder Oliver Bozanic, with fellow substitute Scott Sinclair slamming in the penalty.
James Forrest then scored after a shot from Christie was spilt, before Christie – out of contract at the end of the season – netted a wonderful third from outside the box to book a final appearance at Hampden Park against Aberdeen on December 2.
Hearts 0-3 Celtic
As it happened
Rodgers said Christie is “definitely a player we would love to keep” and sang his praises.
“I thought Ryan Christie was sensational,” he said. “Playing in midfield as one of the eights, his intensity, his quality, his pressing, everything.
“Once we get the first goal – Craig Levein might think it was a bit soft but referee Willie Collum is in a great position to see it and the young player has no real argument with it – we were absolutely brilliant.
“We created lots of chances and their ‘keeper has made some great saves.”
Rodgers believes former Inverness attacker Christie is all the better for his loan spell at Aberdeen before he returned to Parkhead in the summer.
He said: “He is someone of course we would like to commit to. I think the club are talking to his representatives but I am not aware of any movement.
“My focus is on making him better and hopefully then the other stuff would sort itself out.
“But yes, definitely a player we would love to keep. He is a fantastic player. He is 23, a really good age now to have the personality to play at a really big club.
“It has been a process with Ryan. I felt when he first came, to give his best and work with the pressure he had to feel that pressure on a weekly basis and he felt that pressure [on loan] at Aberdeen, a great club with a really good manager for 18 months.
“I always felt he could come back and hopefully make a contribution.
“Since he has come back he has shown that. You have seen his impact today, he affected it and scored an absolutely brilliant goal and was involved in two others, so it is all part of the development.”
Hearts boss Craig Levein was left “frustrated” and believed his side were sunk after a “soft penalty” which came before an “uncharacteristic” handling error by goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal.
He said: “All credit to the lads, they followed the game plan to perfection until the penalty kick and then Bobby (Zlamal) makes a mistake which I can genuinely say is the first mistake he has made this season, and we were 2-0 down without having done a lot wrong.
“I think it is a very soft penalty indeed. Bozanic’s foot isn’t even off the ground and Christie is just waiting on it but it has given Willie a decision to make.”
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