Celtic massacre Hibs at Easter Road
Ouch. Hibs have suffered a few sore ones this season, but none as painful as this, their worst defeat at Easter Road since Celtic put five past them more than 25 years ago.
Given Hibs had clocked up back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in 12 months prior to this clash, it was also a result few – including Celtic boss Neil Lennon – would have seen coming, even if the Glasgow side were odds on favourites to stretch their winning streak to 18 matches.
Pat Fenlon’s side were, at least, expected to offer stiff opposition, perhaps somewhere along the lines of that performance at Celtic Park back in October when the Edinburgh club scrapped their way to a no-scoring draw, the last team to take something from the Hoops.
But as he picks over the bones of this rout today, Fenlon will no doubt reflect that much of the wounds suffered were self-inflicted, Hibs, as has happened far too often over the course of the past 18 months, falling far short of doing themselves justice.
In the days leading up to this match, Fenlon had spoken of his desire to return Easter Road to something like the fortress it once was, making a trip to Leith one to be viewed with more than a touch of trepidation, even by either side of the Old Firm.
Unfortunately that mantle disappeared a long time ago, Hibs boasting just one victory in the SPL at home since defeating Inverness Caley last February, a damning statistic and one which goes a long way to explaining why they prop up the SPL table at the moment, separated from basement outfit Dunfermline on goal difference alone.
Four goals to be precise is the margin between the clubs locked in a desperate battle to avoid the drop, the stated aim of the pair of dragging others into the equation most certainly secondary to outdoing the other for, as it stands, the relegation scrap is no more than a two-horse race.
The same, of course, can’t be said of events at the other end of the table, where the drama of the past week saw Celtic’s four-point lead stretched to 14 thanks to the ten-point penalty imposed on arch-rivals Rangers after they were forced into administration.
As such, this game was always going to take place against a somewhat surreal background. Easter Road has witnessed one or two title parties over the years but, surely, never one barely seven weeks into the New Year, the 3800 Celtic fans who had packed into the ground’s South Stand making it clear they were there to celebrate not only a first championship flag in four years but the demise, as they see it, of Rangers.
The rout they witnessed merely added to their enjoyment although, if truth be told, they weren’t made to work too hard for all they got. The warning signs were posted early, Anthony Stokes firing in a low cross which Gary Hooper flicked with his heel only for Hibs goalkeeper Graham Stack to throw out a boot to deflect the ball over the bar.
And that with only 15 seconds on the clock. The opener, however, was merely delayed even if Hibs had made a promising start, Stokes finding himself free to head home Charlie Mulgrew’s corner to make it five goals in four games at the ground he once called home.
Bad enough for Hibs, the game plan of keeping Celtic and their fans quiet blown apart after just 14 minutes but worse was to follow, Pa Kujabi’s slack pass picked off for Hooper to sweep a crossfield pass out for Stokes, who drew James McPake wide before cutting inside the central defender and returning the ball for his unmarked team-mate to slide under Stack.
Twenty minutes gone, as was the match, although Lewis Stevenson, as he later admitted, might have done better when he dispossessed Adam Matthews on the edge of his own penalty area only to send a tame shot into the arms of Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
And then, in a style rather reminiscent of the Scottish Communities League Cup tie between the sides at this same venue, Celtic went for the jugular. Mulgrew fired home a superb free-kick, Hooper claimed his second with a shot which took an awkward bounce in front of Stack and Sung Yueng Ki inadvertently ran into the path of fellow substitute Kris Commons’ wayward effort to deflect the ball beyond the Hibs goalkeeper for a fifth time.
“Ruthless,” was Lennon’s assessment, the Celtic boss, adding: “The way the players approached the game and their work-rate off the ball, their team work was exceptional. The front men set the tone for the rest of the team and our quality in the final third was of a very high standard.
“We are a very powerful team, confident and we were pretty ruthless. It was a comprehensive win, there was a real zip about them and it was the best game under me from Anthony Stokes.”
But if Celtic’s finishing was clinical, Stevenson admitted he and his team-mates were more than a touch culpable. The little midfielder said: “We went into the game pretty confident that we could spring an upset.
“The first ten minutes we started all right, but we lost a goal against the run of play and after that it was all downhill.”
That the goal came from a set piece would again have disappointed Fenlon who has seen far too many lost from such situations, in fact too many in total with Ki’s strike the 50th conceded by Hibs in the SPL while only 24 have been scored. Compare that to the 36 Stokes and Hooper have plundered between them so far.
Asked if, however, he felt Celtic had been in unstoppable form, Stevenson said: “If we’d scored when we were on top it could have been a different game as it might have been had I scored with the chance I had. But I don’t think they created too many chances, five shots, five goals more or less.”
Having said that, Joe Ledley went close to making it six when he met a Ki corner only to power his header off the bar.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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