The last rites for Celtic title challenge not down to Covid-19 personnel problems against Hibs

It hardly really matters, in truth, that a Celtic laid low by self-inflicted Covid-19 circumstances were further laid low in the title race by the loss of a late Kevin Nisbet equaliser against Hibs.
Celtic debutant Cameron Harper  (far right) competes with Ryan Porteous in the air  at Celtic Park (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)Celtic debutant Cameron Harper  (far right) competes with Ryan Porteous in the air  at Celtic Park (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Celtic debutant Cameron Harper (far right) competes with Ryan Porteous in the air at Celtic Park (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

The 91st minute smashed-in effort, which in keeping with the Scottish champions’ season of course proved the product of scatty failure to deal with a corner, might have condemned them to a 1-1 draw. An outcome that now leaves them trailing Rangers by a monstrous 21 points.

Yet, even if an exquisitely flighted, curling free-kick from David Turnbull in the 81st minute had allowed them to escape with a victory from the most challenging circumstances, the fact is that the damage to Celtic’s 10-in-a-row aspirations didn’t need the latest grim events to be fatal.

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Perhaps the best summation of this Celtic campaign of both seemingly never-ending calamity and crushing consequences over poor choices was provided by a supporters’ tweet. The way the season is going, it said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Celtic announced Hoopy the Huddlehound had passed away.

The slow and painful death to the club’s record 10 attempt always seemed that it would be given the last rites against Hibs when it emerged all four senior strikers - Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths, Albian Ajeti and Patryk Klimala - and attackers Ryan Christie and Mohamed Elyounoussi featuring among the 13 players forced to isolate following Christopher Jullien’s positive Covid-19 test following the club’s horribly ill-judged winter training camp in Dubai. It just didn’t pan out perhaps as anticipated.

The fall-out from that excursion will continue to be nuclear for weeks to come, no doubt. But the more immediate singeing came with the bluntness they exhibited against an Easter Road side that had shipped in five goals across desperate defeats to Ross County and Livingston in their previous two outings.

It would be harsh to home in on 19-year-old forward Cameron Harper, handed a debut in invidious circumstances, but it really didn’t happen for the American across his hour on the pitch. He had one goal attempt early on from an impossible angle when a cut-back was demanded, but made the visitors’ backline look impenetrable. It was a similar story for his frontline partner, of sorts, Mikey Johnston. In his first start in a year, Celtic were left playing in front of Hibs for so long.

It was an admirable effort from the makeshift home side to grow into an encounter in which Turnbull was once again a standout. And for all that it was yet another cross ball that undid them, Celtic keeper Conor Hazard had produced a series of saves before then to put him in credit for the confrontation. But, whatever the age and profile of the Celtic players who take to the pitch for the club in this season horriblus, it just seems domestic adversity invariably gives way to inadequacy.

Celtic: Hazard; Frimpong, Welsh, Duffy, Laxalt; Soro; Turnbull, Rogic (Henderson 67), McGregor; Johnston (Dembele 79), Harper (Oxoflex 60). Subs: Doohan, Taylor, Connell, Coffey, Ralston, Hjelde, Karamoko

Hibs: Macey; P McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, Doig (Stevenson 46); Gogic; Wright (Doidge 52), Newell (Mallan 68), Hallberg, Murphy; Nisbet. Subs: Dabrowski, Gray, McGregor, S. McGinn, Bradley, Gullan.

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