AFTER a momentous week for Neil Lennon’s team, here was the hangover, arriving in the shape of a host of missed opportunities when they had the game in their grasp and then some pitiful defending when their hold started to loosen.
Scorers: Celtic - Lustig 10, McPake [og] 69; Hibs - Clancy 53, Cairney 73
Celtic lost their lead once and then twice. They didn’t so much allow Hibs back into it as lay out a red carpet for them. Fair play to the visitors. They were good enough to take advantage.
This was a puzzler of a game. For 45 minutes there was only one team in it, only one team creating chances, only one team with the ball to create chances. “We murdered them,” said Lennon. “We should have been out of sight.”
There was Celtic and there was the group of guys in yellow shirts running around after them. Before it all changed with a moment of desperate slapstick in the Celtic defence, the home side set the agenda and created all the goal-threat. They scored after ten minutes when Paddy McCourt’s corner was swept past Ben Williams in the Hibs goal by a first-time hit from Mikael Lustig, a prelude to a succession of great opportunities created by Lennon’s team and the beginning of a highly eventful afternoon for Lustig.
In a period of total dominance, Gary Hooper thumped a shot off the underside of the Hibs crossbar, then Victor Wanyama hit a close-range effort right down the throat of the Hibs goalkeeper when anything to the side of him might have got the job done. Next it was James Forrest fizzing one past the post, then, worst of all, Tony Watt. Put clear by Wanyama and with only Williams to beat he got too clever, tried to dink it over the goalkeeper and only succeeded in pulling it past Williams’ right-hand post. “Simple chance after simple chance,” as Lennon said.
Bedecked in yellow, Hibs were flying about like over-grown canaries, helpless to halt this procession. Hibs survived and survived again, though. When Adam Matthews curled a ball on to Hooper’s head at the near post, the striker directed his attempt flush on to Williams’ post. He looked to the gods in frustration, but at the same time he must have thought that it was only a matter of time before a second goal came. And he was right. The thing that nobody envisaged was that when it arrived it fell to the visitors.
In fairness, Celtic had to make a substitution at the break, Wanyama going off with a dead leg and replaced by young Jackson Irvine. With Filip Twardzik and Irvine now at the heart of the midfield, Celtic were vulnerable and they had a warning early in the second half when Eoin Doyle, the Dubliner up front for Hibs, hit woodwork. Even then the notion that Pat Fenlon’s side would work their way back into contention seemed far-fetched. Wanyama’s loss was deeply felt, though. Hibs took control in midfield and ground their way back into it.
Last weekend in Inverness, Celtic coped effortlessly in getting a result while resting a battalion of first-team players. They tried the same trick here, some injured, some given a break. The upshot is that none of Scott Brown, Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew, Beram Kayal, Georgios Samaras, Kris Commons or Anthony Stokes was in the starting team. Indeed, Commons was the only one on the bench, making an appearance at 2-2. Their inability to convert their chances into goals was but one of the strange phenomenons of the opening period, the other being the identity of the man who took the captain’s arm-band. Not so long ago Kelvin Wilson couldn’t get in the team, but yesterday he led it. It’ll be interesting to see how long-term Wilson’s appointment happens to be. He, along with everybody else in the Celtic ranks, watched some of the second-half defending between the cracks of his fingers. The first equaliser was a footballing atrocity. David Wotherspoon’s punt forward fell between the retreating Lustig and the advancing Fraser Forster and the pair of them may as well have dropped out of the sky from different planets for all the understanding they showed. Apparently Forster accepted the blame. That’s according to Lustig. Asked for his response, Lennon replied: “I’ll leave that to the confines of the dressing room.”
They left the ball to each other and Tim Clancy nipped in, poked it forward and walked it into an empty net. Clancy has no reputation as a goalscorer but neither is he one to look a gift horse in the mouth. The error just spoke to the problems that Celtic still have in the heart of their defence when Thomas Rogne and Charlie Mulgrew are not playing, problems Lennon is seeking to address with the signing on Friday of a new centre-half, Efe Ambrose.
Having lost one lead, they then went about creating a new one and then losing that one, too. Midway through the half, Williams spilled a low Twardzik free-kick, Lustig helped it towards goal with James McPake getting the last touch for an own goal. Five minutes later, Paul Cairney eluded some powder-puff tackling from Matthews on the left to beat Forster with a neat finish. It was then that Lennon brought Commons on for McCourt, but the winner would not come. An awakening for Celtic. For Hibs, proof according to their manager that he now has a “different type of character” in his team, “different animals altogether”.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Lustig, Wilson, Izaguirre, Forrest, Wanyama, McCourt, Twardzik, Hooper, Watt.
Subs: Irvine for Wanyama, Commons for McCourt.
Subs not used: Zaluska, Slane, Fraser, Chalmers, McGregor.
Hibs: Williams, Clancy, McPake, Hanlon, Maybury, Wotherspoon, Claros, Deegan, Cairney, Griffiths, Doyle.
Subs: Sproule for Wotherspoon (87), Stevenson for Deegan (87).
Subs not used: Antell, Handling, Stanton, Caldwell, Kuqi.
Referee: Iain Brines.