MICHAEL Nelson feels Hibernian were entitled to draw positives from Saturday’s trip to Celtic Park even though it brought their first defeat under Terry Butcher’s charge.
The defender returned to the starting line-up for the first time since sustaining a serious facial injury when the sides last met back in October, but he was unable to help Hibs make it four games in a row unbeaten as a first-half goal by Celtic striker Teemu Pukki proved decisive.
While Nelson was naturally disappointed to lose the match, he believes he and his colleagues can take heart from the fact they remained in it right to the end against a Celtic side which had rattled 12 goals in their previous two domestic games and who were widely expected to come out with all guns blazing after being given a chasing by Barcelona in their harrowing 6-1 defeat at the Nou Camp in the Champions League in midweek.
“I think its still a progression from when the manager came in,” said Nelson. “We were three unbeaten and then we’ve lost to Celtic. But there’s a progression again in the performance.
“There’s a steeliness about the team – but at the end of the day we still got beat, so we can’t be happy. However, there are still positives to be taken from it. There are ways of losing games.
“You’ve seen in their last two Premiership games that one goal’s become two and three and four. Teams have capitulated and that was one of the things we were sort of conscious of…that if they did score then it didn’t become two or three or more.
“They are scoring after 28, 29 minutes and we made a conscious effort at the back, talking to each other, that in the worst-case scenario we were going in at half time 1-0. Then we came out second half and the back four said to ourselves ‘This is how it ends, the worst will be 1-0.’
“That’s what we’ve managed to do, so you can take the positives out of it. Of course, though, we’re still disappointed we’ve lost the game.”
Nelson feels a tinge of frustration that Hibs were unable to salvage a point, with the Easter Road side giving Celtic some problems after the interval and Liam Craig and Paul Cairney both going close to netting an equaliser.
“There’s definitely a feeling we could have got something in the later stages,” said Nelson, the former Kilmarnock and Bradford City centre-half.
“First half it was just a game of possession for Celtic and they kept the ball quite well. But everything was in front of us…the one time they managed to get in behind us they scored.
“Everything else was shots from distance or passing in front of us. We wanted to stay solid, stay compact, which we managed to do for a lot of the game.
“It was a bit frustrating to concede the goal, but second half we decided to push Danny [Handling] and James [Collins] up and also push Liam [Craig] and Robbo [Scott Robertson] a bit higher against their midfield and I think we caused them problems, hitting the post.
“Paul Cairney just couldn’t force the ball in. On another day it would probably just hit him and go in. It’s frustrating, but I don’t think you’ll have many teams come here and fight them right up until the very last minute to get the three points.”