And yet, somehow, it did, even if the 2-0 winning margin for Celtic is pretty much a regulation outcome when it comes to them hosting the Edinburgh club.
Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate will be considered the headline acts. It could be no other way when first impressions from the new Celtic arrivals were as all they could have hoped for. A goal four minutes into his debut, filling the central striker vacated by the injured Kyogo Furuhashi, made that so for the scamping, grafting Maeda. Midfielder Hatate, meanwhile, exhibited an assurance and range of passing that allowed him to slot in neatly as aider-and-abetter to Tom Rogic in the playmaking duties.
Indeed, the encounter was an ensemble piece in which there were the diamonds and the rogues. Into the latter category came Kevin Nisbet. For all that Postecoglou’s men were worthy winners, the enterprise with which Maloney was willing to approach his sternest test following two wins at the helm could have given him a perfect Parkhead start. It didn’t because Nisbet, only three minutes in, was guilty of a preposterous miss, a logic-defying aberration. Two yards out between the post, and with Joe Hart prone after misjudging the flight of Chris Cadden cross, the forward had the whole goal into which he could roll the ball, only to jab it against the far upright.
The punishment for Hibs was swift, and in the realms of more self harm. Josh Campbell got in fankle in possession down Hibs’ left channel, which allowed Rogic to engineer an opening by coolly picking out Maeda. The striker didn’t make the cleanest or strongest contact at the front post, but he still befuddled Hibs keeper Matt Macey, who got a touch but couldn’t prevent the low effort sliding behind him.
Celtic’s inter-changes, both with the ball and positionally, meant they conducted all manner of raids on the Hibs’ goal. Yet, the visitors, without producing much real penetration, had the bravery to play from deep and keep hold of the ball. Indeed, in doing so, they became the first Scottish side to out-possess Postecoglou’s men in their own environs, with a 54-46 split in their favour.
It was never going to count for anything, though, because the quickly found themselves 2-0 down. The clincher ensued from Liel Abada jinking into the box, and flicking the ball over the head of Josh Doig only for it to come off the defender’s out-stretched arm. Following a second’s hesitation, referee Willie Collum pointed to the spot, and Josip Juranovic emphatically swept the spot-kick into the left hand-corner of Macy’s net.
On a night when the pre-match atmosphere was so pumped up, the ambience resembled a European night in Glasgow’s east end, all levels dropped midway into the second period as Hibs’ became more blunted and Celtic’s effervescence dropped. The biggest roars late on were reserved for the changes made by the Celtic manager. The acclaim for Jota, appearing for the later stages for a first appearance since pulling a hamstring in early December, just eclipsed the reception given to Celtic’s other January Japanese arrival, Yosuke Ideguchi.