Scottish Cup: Set-piece sorcery, too much youth & champion temperament - what we learned from the semi-finals
Scottish Cup semi-final weekend delivered an outrageous long-range screamer, a sensational save, two red cards and some set-piece trickery.
Craig Levein's Hearts will attempt to become the first team in 27 matches to inflict a domestic cup loss on Celtic, who are in pursuit of a treble treble, on 25 May.
Inverness Caley Thistle's cup run is over, but did John Robertson's men show enough to suggest they can compete in the top tier as they chase promotion?
And what to make of Aberdeen's remarkable self-destruction against the champions?
This is what we can take from two tumultuous days of last-four action.
- Lennon has 'no idea' about Celtic future
- McInnes sending-off 'down to sectarian abuse'
- Levein praise for Hearts' 'clear heads'
Set-piece sorcery vital for Hearts
Losing to Inverness a week after an Edinburgh derby defeat on home soil? That was an unthinkable scenario for Hearts and Levein, coming under fire for what some fans see as predictable, agricultural football.
After a turgid first half where they had a ton of ball but did little with it, Hearts played to their strengths.
Levein's assistant, Austin MacPhee, is widely credited with devising cunning set-piece manoeuvres and his influence shone again at Hampden.
Uche Ikpeazu slammed home the opening goal when Jake Mulraney whizzed into space to take the ball from an Olly Lee corner, and John Souttar snuck in to volley home another Lee delivery in their 3-0 success.
Seven of Hearts' last 20 goals have come from set-pieces, with a further four from the penalty spot, Sean Clare converting the latest to round off Saturday's win.
They have also scored 12 headers in this season's Scottish Premiership - more than any other team - accounting for just under a third of their 38 league goals.
Hearts have a lot of big men and an arsenal of aerial firepower. They can and do attack with fluency from open play, but set-pieces remain a crucial source of their goals.
Caley Thistle can push for promotion
Knowing they would face an aerial bombardment spearheaded by the awesome physical presence of Ikpeazu, Inverness set up to contain and frustrate.
They did a pretty good job of that in the first half, even if they scarcely emerged as an attacking force themselves.
The Highlanders were dominated again after the break but Ikpeazu's opener forced them to open up and they twice came painfully close to levelling.
Zdenek Zlamal's outstanding stop nudged Joe Chalmers' free-kick onto the crossbar and Jamie McCart's wonderfully taken turn and clipped finish was ruled out for offside.
Inverness succumbed to Hearts' greater class, but they will be disappointed not to have got their creative figureheads Aaron Doran and Liam Polworth on the ball more frequently.
John Robertson is doing fine work with a meagre budget and has all-but led his team to the promotion play-offs. If they make it up - and it is a big if - they have a solid base from which to build a team that can stay in the top flight.
Do Aberdeen need more experience?
This was a very young Aberdeen team. The average age of the starting XI was just under 24, with seven players aged 23 or younger.
Derek McInnes selected three teenagers in Dean Campbell, Lewis Ferguson and Connor McLennan. Each has delivered when given opportunities this season, with Ferguson a midfield mainstay.
McInnes' hand was forced to a degree by injuries to a number of key players. Shay Logan, not Dom Ball, who was sent off, would have started at right-back if fit. Niall McGinn and Gary Mackay-Steven would almost certainly have been in there and suspended captain Graeme Shinnie was a grievous loss.
Missing so much quality and so much experience made inflicting Celtic's first cup loss in three years an even more gigantic challenge.
After Ball's dismissal, Aberdeen imploded spectacularly. They lost goals, Ferguson scythed down Tom Rogic and joined Ball in the dressing room. Docherty, McInnes' assistant, was banished to the stands, and the Dons boss followed, later saying he gestured to Celtic fans singing a sectarian song at him.
Would Aberdeen have kept their heads on the park and put up greater resistance with a more seasoned team?
Celtic maintain big-game temperament
This was a colossal game for Neil Lennon and his quest to continue as manager beyond the end of the season.
Aberdeen have beaten Rangers in Glasgow three times this term and earned a goalless draw on their last visit to Celtic Park during March.
The football under Lennon may not be as swashbuckling as it was under predecessor Brendan Rodgers. There might not be 20 fizzed passes yielding a beautifully crafted goal and there have been plodding performances against Aberdeen, Dundee and Livingston.
But in the cup, Celtic are still ruthless. Rodgers never lost a domestic cup match and Lennon has won both on his watch convincingly, a comfortable quarter-final victory over Hibs at Easter Road and Sunday's 3-0 shellacking of ill-disciplined Aberdeen.
Even before the red cards and the goals, Celtic were utterly dominant and should have been ahead well before Ball's ordering-off.
That's 26 consecutive cup wins and 21 clean sheets for the champions now, a run in which they have scored 81 goals and conceded only seven.
Of course, they are richer and better-resourced than anyone else in Scotland but this level of consistency in knock-out football deserves huge credit.