Celtic 1-Hibs 2: Murray vows never to forget magic night

IT HAD been almost five years since Ian Murray had tasted victory in a Hibs shirt at Celtic Park but today the Easter Road star admitted he hopes John Hughes' players don't have to wait so long to do so again.

Along with Derek Riordan, like himself enjoying a second spell at Easter Road, Murray was the only survivor from that day in April 2005 when, ironically, Tony Mowbray took the Edinburgh club to the east end of Glasgow and emerged victorious.

Way back then Garry O'Connor, Ivan Sproule and Scott Brown were the heroes in a 3-1 triumph which, ultimately cost Celtic the title, their only defeat in their final eight matches of the season as they finished a point behind arch-rivals Rangers. Today Hibs may just have delivered a similarly fatal blow to their ex-manager's hopes of guiding the Hoops to the championship in his first season in charge, this result leaving Mowbray's side trailing Rangers by ten points.

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In the cruel world of football both Murray and Riordan will see that as Mowbray's problem, the under-pressure Celtic boss, as he would expect, being given little sympathy as his former players concentrate on their own goal, namely third in the SPL table and with it a place in Europe.

Goals from Anthony Stokes – his 14th of the season and his 10th in just eight league matches – and an injury-time winner from Danny Galbraith, his first for Hibs, recaptured that coveted spot from Dundee United as results elsewhere conspired to work in their favour with, don't forget, a game in hand.

As enjoyable as the victory was, though, Murray insisted it was one which, while down to a touch of luck here and there, reflected the grit, determination and desire of a side which found itself a goal behind in just five minutes, Marc-Antoine Fortune stealing a yard on Colin Nish to head home Paul Caddis' corner in off the underside of the bar.

Hibs, not alone in having simply crumpled after being dealt such an early blow at either this particular venue or Ibrox, had, not unsurprisingly, to weather a storm as Celtic thereafter forced what ultimately proved to be a total of 16 corners to two of their own, a reflection of the pressure which was brought to bear on them for much of the 90 minutes.

If Hughes was disappointed at the manner in which Fortune scored, so, too, would Mowbray have been annoyed at the sight of Stokes stealing in front of goalkeeper Artur Boruc to head Riordan's corner, the result of a fantastic save from the Pole as Josh Thompson threatened to head into his own net, over the line.

Murray said: "Celtic might argue they scored too early, just as we did the other week against Rangers, but to be 1-0 up after a few minutes is always a fantastic start. However, you always believe you can win. You need a bit of luck and we got it. They had a goal chalked off and a few decisions maybe went for us.

"But to come back from losing such an early goal at a place like Celtic Park shows great character and, I think, says it all about this team.

"We are genuinely quite sound this season, we don't leak too many chances and while Graeme Smith had a few saves to make at the end, it was not as if we were cut open too easily.

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"We always knew we would get a chance. The gaffer had said that if we went 1-0 down to hang in there because anything can happen, a red card, a penalty, whatever."

The "whatever" was Hibs, as they have so often done this season, hitting on the counter-attack, Celtic appealing in vain for a free-kick as substitute Ki Seung Yeung went down, Stokes holding the ball up to find John Rankin and Galbraith in support, the midfielder slotting in the former Manchester United kid who took a touch before drilling his shot low beyond Boruc's despairing left hand.

Was it a foul, was Galbraith, as some claimed, offside? Hughes merely shrugged his shoulders and replied: "Ask the referee, plenty go for you and plenty against. I'm just delighted that if it was it went for us."

The win pushed Hibs just two points behind Celtic, within touching distance, but, Hughes insisted, his old club remain "miles ahead," as he steadfastly refused to contemplate overhauling them for second just as only a couple of weeks ago he was similarly dismissing thoughts of a third-place finish.

"No chance," was the terse reply to that particular question, Hughes adding: "Celtic are still miles out in front of us but we will keep digging in. We might not achieve that third spot, there are plenty of knocks along the way but I think it's good to challenge these boys, to test the character in that dressing room.

"And if they give me what they gave me last night then, touch wood, we might get what we are looking for."

Third place might be the ultimate goal for the season but, according to Murray, the belief gained from such a win, following on the 5-1 hammering of Hamilton when some were beginning to question Hibs' resolve, will also undoubtedly benefit the side in that quest.

He said: "I still remember that 3-1 win five years ago when Celtic were going for the title and we deserved it. It feels just as good today as it did then to have won again. We might have defended a bit more than then but all credit to the lads for digging in.

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"We actually said at half-time there was a chance for us to score on the counter, that's why we left three up the park. We had a young team five years ago, I was only 23 myself, and again we have a young side, Paul Hanlon and David Wotherspoon are only 20, Danny is just 18, and there's only a few of us aged 26 or 27, it's a great mix."

While Hughes continues to label Hibs as "work in progress," as he is obviously entitled to do having been in the job barely seven months, it's clear huge strides have already been made under his tenure. As everyone has seen, they are far from the finished article, at times too easily bullied out of matches but there is also a grit and resilience exemplified by the performance of Liam Miller as the midfielder returned to Celtic Park for the first time since turning his back on the Glasgow outfit in favour of Manchester United.

Hughes is already on record as describing the capture of the 28-year-old on a free transfer from Queens Park Rangers as the signing of the season – and few would disagree on this performance, the Republic of Ireland ace popping up here, there and everywhere as Hibs rode out a second-half storm to emerge with the three points.

The Hibs boss noted his appreciation saying: "I think he was possibly man of the match. He gets stronger as the game goes on. He has been good for me, the sort of player you want to bring to your club. It rubs off on the others, the standards and culture you are trying to set and there's no better example than Liam."