Hibs 0 - 5 Celtic: Generous Hibs prove perfect party hosts
COULD this be the earliest, least dramatic end to the season since the SPL started? We have been spoiled in recent years by Helicopter Sundays and last-gasp goal chases. Now the only real competition left seems to be that between Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper to be the league’s top scorer.
Already 14 points ahead of Rangers before kick-off, Celtic stretched their lead to 17 with effortless ease, ending this game as a contest before the first half had even reached its midway point. Hibernian were outclassed in every area of the game, their only consolation being the fact that they are still just ahead of Dunfermline on goal difference at the bottom of the table.
The away end was full, and in boisterous mood long before kick-off as the Celtic fans celebrated the imminent arrival of their first title in four years. “We’re having a party as Rangers die,” they sang, and although some of them also found time for a couple of chants of “Ooh ah, up the Ra”, there was in the main a good- natured party atmosphere – at least in that part of the ground.
It was altogether different elsewhere, however, as the Hibs support was small and all but inaudible. Perhaps they had written this one off, knowing that for their team, the more important battles will be against sides far closer to their own end of the table.
This never looked like being a game Celtic would fail to win, but Hibs should at least have done more to delay their progress to another three points. Instead, with only 13 minutes played, they made an abject failure of attempting to defend a corner and gifted the opening goal to Stokes.
Charlie Mulgrew’s delivery from the right was a good one, but appeared too close to Graham Stack to prove a real danger. But the goalkeeper left it to his defence, they left it to Stokes, and the striker thankfully headed in from two yards out.
Both Hibs manager Pat Fenlon and midfielder Lewis Stevenson made mention after the game of the decent start they had made before that goal, and it was true that in the opening dozen minutes Jorge Claros had given as good as he got in his tussle with Scott Brown. But the home team had nonetheless been fortunate not to go a goal down in the opening 30 seconds, when a low cross from Stokes was back-heeled towards goal by Hooper, and only kept out by Stack’s feet as the keeper, on this occasion at least, showed he was alert to the danger.
Not long after the opening goal, Leigh Griffiths sent a free-kick over the bar as Hibs tried to stage a fightback, but if anything they were trying too hard, and committing too many men forward in their eagerness to get back on terms. That eagerness was punished when a Hibs move broke up just outside the Celtic penalty area, and within seconds Hooper and Stokes combined to grab the second goal.
It was Hooper who began and ended the attack, making ground from inside his own half then sending a diagonal ball to Stokes on the left. The Irishman motored on towards the penalty area, eased his way past McPake, and then slipped the ball back to his colleague, who was lurking just onside. Two defenders got back to try to close him down, but he steered his shot past them, and past Stack.
The ten-minute spell which followed was probably Hibs’ best of the game, and one during which they should have scored. First Stevenson was through on Forster but could only loft the ball gently into the goalkeeper’s arms, and then David Wotherspoon and Isaiah Osbourne had half-chances.
At the other end, with just over half an hour played, Stokes should have been awarded a penalty when he rounded McPake and was brought down by the defender’s leg. But referee Craig Thomson was up with play, and gave the Hibs captain the benefit of any doubt.
At the start of the second half George Francomb came on for Matthew Doherty, who had taken a head knock during an aerial challenge. The alteration in personnel, however, did nothing to affect the balance of the game, as within a minute of the restart Celtic were three up thanks to a Charlie Mulgrew score direct from a free-kick. Just outside the 18-yard box, to the right of centre, it was in the ideal position for the full-back, who curled his shot into the net to snuff out the slightest hope Hibs might have had of staging a fightback.
Moments later Stokes and Hooper combined again, but this time the former’s shot was blocked. A further goal was not long delayed, however, and it duly came in the 51st minute when a speculative shot by Hooper from more than 20 yards out on the left deceived Stack with an awkward bounce and found the far corner of the net.
Celtic looked capable of scoring almost at will, and it was only their decision to conserve some energy for Wednesday’s match against Dunfermline which preserved Hibs from heavier humiliation. The home team enjoyed more possession in the closing 30 minutes than they had in the first hour, but that only highlighted their lack of a threat up front, where Griffiths and Eoin Doyle had had hapless afternoons.
With 15 minutes left substitutes Ki Sung-Yeung and Kris Commons combined to complete Hibs’ humiliation. The South Korean played a neat ball through to Commons and continued his run as the recipient of the pass prepared to shoot. Ki knew little about it when the shot came in, but he was still able to deflect it into the net.
Celtic could have ended the rout as they began it with a goal from the corner, but Joe Ledley’s header from Ki’s delivery came back off the bar. At the end of a game in which just about everything had gone wrong for them, Hibs could have been forgiven for thinking they were due that touch of good fortune.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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