ON A day when all reasonable expectations would have to be confounded for Hibs to put an end to football’s most notable hoodoo, it all panned out in fairly predictable fashion as Celtic deservedly lifted the Scottish Cup for a record 36th time.
Scorers: Hooper 8, 31, Ledley 80
Referee: W Collum
Completing the domestic double for the 15th time in their history, the Parkhead club finished their 125th anniversary campaign in style as Gary Hooper’s double and a late Joe Ledley strike ensured Hibs’ painful longing to lift the old trophy will be extended into a 112th year.
Unlike 12 months ago, when they were humbled by city rivals Hearts, there was no shame in this defeat for Pat Fenlon and his players. They were simply outclassed in the end by a team which has been the best in the country by a distance this season under Neil Lennon. He becomes only the third man to win the Scottish domestic double as both a player and manager with the same club, following in the giant footsteps of Jock Stein and Billy McNeill. After a year in which he also memorably guided Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League, life in charge of the club he loves may never be sweeter for Lennon.
Hibs will reflect on what might have been had Eoin Doyle been able to convert an outstanding chance to put the underdogs in front just a minute before Hooper grabbed the opener and sent Celtic on their way to what was ultimately a convincing triumph.
Given the quality of the save made by Fraser Forster to deny Doyle’s close-range header, it may be overly harsh to criticise the Irishman. But it was the kind of opportunity which simply has to be taken by any team hoping to upset the kind of odds which were stacked against Hibs here.
It would have capped what had been an encouraging opening few minutes to the final for those who had made their way along the M8 more in hope than expectation. Tom Taiwo had already registered the afternoon’s first attempt at goal, firing a 20-yard shot not too far over Forster’s crossbar after the Celtic defence had only partially cleared a fourth-minute Leigh Griffiths corner.
Three minutes later, Taiwo linked up smartly with Griffiths in a slick move which set up that clear sight of goal for Doyle. Taiwo swept a pass to the overlapping Ryan McGivern on the left and the full-back’s cross was perfectly measured for Doyle on the edge of the six-yard box. The forward’s header was firm enough but also too close to Forster who was able to make a tremendous reaction save as he threw himself to his left.
It was perhaps indicative of the finishing which has seen Doyle, who will join League One side Chesterfield this summer, prove less than prolific during his time at Easter Road.
It was certainly in the sharpest possible contrast to the deadliness of Hooper, who continues to look like a striker capable of operating successfully at English Premier League level.
His eighth-minute opener took his tally for this season to 30 and was a perfect example of his instinctive penalty area ability. Hibs were unable to properly clear Mikael Lustig’s cross from the right, Alan Maybury taking a fresh air swipe at the ball which fell to Anthony Stokes on the opposite flank. He whipped it back towards the far post where Hooper nipped in between Paul Hanlon and McGivern to direct a firm right-foot volley back across Ben Williams and into the corner of the net.
The goal would have induced an all too familiar sinking feeling among the Hibs fans, a sense of foreboding increased as a suddenly energised Celtic looked to turn the screw. Williams raced from his line to save with his feet from Joe Ledley as the Welsh midfielder raced on to Hooper’s pass, then Stokes should have done better than slash a shot wide from close range after another Hooper through-ball had dissected the Hibs defence.
With Hibs struggling to replicate the bright work of those initial minutes before they fell behind, Celtic continued to look by far the more threatening side and Williams again denied Ledley in the 27th minute, the Celtic man unable to connect cleanly enough with a clever pass from Kris Commons.
Four minutes later, Celtic did double their lead and it was an advantage, even with so much of the game still remaining, which already had an unassailable look. Hibs were caught flat-footed in defence once more as Ledley and Commons combined to find Stokes in space on the left. The Irishman delivered another fine cross to the far post where Hooper, again finding room between Hanlon and McGivern, planted a close-range header beyond Williams.
With Griffiths appearing less than 100 per cent fit, the prospect of a Hibs recovery appeared slim. But the talismanic forward did provide a flicker of hope for Fenlon’s men when he latched on to a Kevin Thomson through-ball and burst into the Celtic penalty area. Griffiths managed to take the ball around Forster but the angle was simply too prohibitive and all he could do was steer the ball across the face of goal.
It required a perfectly-timed tackle just inside the penalty area by young central defender Jordon Forster to rob Hooper of the chance to complete a hat-trick just before half-time and it was difficult to see what Fenlon could say or do during the interval to revitalise his team.
As it was, Celtic were not required to over-extend themselves in the second half. Stokes cut in from the left to post their first effort after the interval, his shot curling just wide of Williams’ left-hand post.
Hibs lacked both the ability and conviction to force their way back into the contest. Young Alex Harris was an honourable exception on that front, on more than one occasion displaying the quick feet and imagination which have marked him out as one of the country’s brightest young prospects.
He was at the heart of Hibs’ best moments, albeit they were few and far between, including a smart move down the left which ended with his cross being cut out by Kelvin Wilson before Griffiths could latch on to it.
Fenlon sent on Danny Handling
and then Ross Caldwell in a bid to somehow set up a grandstand finish but the young strikers were unable to make any real impact.
Unsurprisingly, it was Celtic who struck again with 11 minutes remaining to underline the fairly
comprehensive manner of their victory. A brilliant turn by Stokes wrong-footed the Hibs defence and he fed the ball to Lustig on the right. The Swedish full-back’s low cross was just asking to be stuck away, but Hooper fluffed his hat-trick chance with a fresh-air swipe.
Unfortunately for Hibs, the ball fell kindly for Ledley who slammed a powerful shot high beyond Williams from eight yards.
HOW THEY FARED
No chance with either of Hooper’s goals and did well to foil Ledley after 27 minutes. Not the ghost of a chance with Ledley’s goal. He is one for the future. 6/10
Badly at fault for Celtic’s opener, failing to make an easy clearance and allowing Stokes to pounce. Pity for him because like Hanlon, he did well afterwards though occasionally toiled as Celtic flooded down his wing. 6
Looked exactly what he is – a big raw boy with a lot of talent who will undoubtedly be a major player for Hibs in the future. But yesterday his inexperience showed on several occasion. 5
Outjumped and out-thought by the smaller Hooper for Celtic’s first two goals. Pity, because he knuckled down and was arguably Hibs’ best defender after that. 6
Caught out of position for Celtic’s second but after that he tried manfully and was seen to good effect when going forward. One who will learn from the experience. 6
Early effort on goal settled him down and he worked tirelessly to try and make an impact in midfield. Not his fault that Celtic were simply superior on the day. 6
Tried hard to combat the superior Celtic midfield, and his booking at least showed he was prepared to fight. Booked for picking a fight with Brown – not a clever thing to do. 6
Had a solid game trying to contend with his dear friend Scott Brown and the rest of the Celtic midfield. Though the battle was lost overall, Thomson led the Hibs attempt to come back. 6
Did a lot of good things, and stuck in well, but was in a losing midfield and at least he gained a lot of experience on the big stage which will stand him in good stead in his bright future. 7
Foiled by Forster with early header, but should have put it away. Haunted by that miss, apparently, and largely ineffective afterwards, he was the first to be replaced. 4
Was sending out distress signals throughout the first half when he seemed to aggravate a supposedly non-existent injury. Little seen thereafter and stupidly booked. Fit? 5
Given a quarter to show what he could do, i.e. very little against the tide. 5
Came into a losing side and had no opportunities. 5
On too late to make any sort of contribution. 5
Fantastic point-blank save from Doyle in opening minutes settled his nerves. In truth, though, he was rarely tested as his defence proved to be in “they shall not pass” mood. 7
Played tirelessly up and down the right wing all match, yet was always ready to do the defensive stuff and helped snuff out any possible threat from Hibs’ left. 7
A couple of glitches apart, this was a towering performance by the big defender, who formed a brick wall of a partnership with Charlie Mulgrew. And he is still improving. 8
Showed how valuable he is to Celtic as a utility player capable of slotting into central defence. The best defender afield and he grows in stature every season. 8
His defence was sounder than usual and, as always, his pace down the left meant that Hibs were always backtracking to deal with him as he linked with Ledley and others. 7
Sometimes a bit too clever, but playing just behind the attack showed his skill and versatility. Came off when tiring, but had played his part in a dominant performance. 7
Totally dominant in midfield, brushing his opponents aside. Came off once the game was won, to allow a deserved standing ovation for a captain who played that role to perfection. 9
Missed a glorious chance to put his side two up after 27 minutes, but he aided and abetted his captain in controlling the midfield and took his goal in the second half quite brilliantly. 8
Not at his best, but his pace and strength – he has been in the gym and it shows – proved troublesome to Hibs throughout. He is now a mature presence for Celtic. 7
Superb run-and-chase and cross made Hooper’s opener, and the cross for the second was even better. His role in the third capped an excellent personal performance. 9
Took the opening goal with his usual aplomb and the second was a matter of precision off a Stokes cross. Went hunting for his hat-trick but Hibs’ revival allowed him few chances. 9
No real showing from a player whose impact wasn’t needed. 6
His reward for season’s improvement was a late run out. 6
Sentiment by Neil Lennon, as he gave the Irishman his final minutes as a Celtic player. 6
Hibernian: Williams, Maybury, Forster, Hanlon, McGivern, Harris, Claros, Taiwo, Thomson, Doyle, Griffiths. Subs: Murdoch, Stevenson, Handling, Robertson, Caldwell.
Celtic: Forster, Lustig, Wilson, Izaguirre, Commons, Brown, Ledley, Mulgrew, Forrest, Stokes, Hooper. Subs: Zaluska, Ambrose, Samaras, Rogic, McCourt.