Celtic 2 - 2 Hibernian: Celtic let Hibs away lightly

AS THE chances came and went for Celtic in a first half of total dominance, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had Neil Lennon swung around from his place in the dugout and looked longingly at his new loan striker, Miku, sitting in the stand with his young child on his knee.

Scorers: Celtic - Lustig (10), McPake og (69); Hibernian - Clancy (53), Cairney (73)

Attendance: 45,867

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Last weekend, Miku was playing against Real Madrid in La Liga. What Lennon would have given for a clinical finisher in those opening minutes.

Hibs scrambled a point from this game, something of a miracle given the buffeting they received in an opening half that saw Celtic opening the scoring with a Mikael Lustig shot from a Paddy McCourt corner, a breakthrough that looked to be just the first of several goals for the home side. Such was their hold on the game, it could and should have been over by the break. “We had enough chances to win two games,” said Lennon. “We murdered them.”

Gary Hooper was a tormented soul, considering he hit the crossbar with one shot and then hit a post with another soon after. In between, Victor Wanyama had a good chance but directed his effort straight at Ben Williams in the Hibs goal, and if that wasn’t bad enough there was the sight of Tony Watt sent clear by Wanyama. The striker was one-on-one with Williams and tried to lift the ball over the goalkeeper, a move that went badly wrong. He merely managed to dribble it wide.

Hibs were hanging on by their fingertips but, in fairness to them, they never gave in. Last season they might have done. Probably would have, in fact. Pat Fenlon spoke in the aftermath about the different type of animal he has in the dressing room this time around, and as soon as Wanyama had to be substituted at half time with a dead leg, thereby weakening Celtic considerably in the heart of the midfield, Hibs went to work on clawing themselves back into the contest.

Eoin Doyle hit a post early in the second half, a chance that would have had the locals sitting bolt upright considering how out of keeping it had been with the rest of the match. Quickly after, there was another moment that had them wondering what the hell was going on down there, when David Wotherspoon hit a fairly aimless ball downfield only for Lustig and Fraser Forster to make an almighty mess of dealing with it. Lustig claimed the goalkeeper called for it. Lennon said he wasn’t going to publicise his reaction to it. But the upshot was that Tim Clancy took advantage of the gift and tapped into an empty net.

There was a reaction from Celtic, in the first instance from McCourt who slalomed his way through the Hibs defence only to fail to finish the job when all the hard work had been done. No matter, Celtic regained the lead when another defensive howler saw James McPake putting the ball into his own net, an advantage that lasted just five minutes before Paul Cairney cut in from the left, leaving Adam Matthews behind him, and finished coolly.

It was a point that certainly gave succour to the notion that Hibs have a bit more about them this season, even though they bombed last midweek against Queen of the South. Sure, they rode their luck in the first half like they were on a violent rollercoaster, but they battled on and dug out a result. They have a long way to go but it seems like they’re moving on the right road at last. They have some doughty individuals in the side: McPake, Clancy, Gary Deegan.

Lennon wasn’t beating himself up over the lost points. The defensive calamities, he said, were out of character. In any event, the wretched second half display can be put in some kind of perspective considering he had so many players unavailable to him either because he wanted to give them a rest or because they’re injured.

There was no Charlie Mulgrew or Thomas Rogne at centre-half. Kelvin Wilson captained the side. From the midfield, Scott Brown, Beram Kayal, Joe Ledley and Kris Commons were absent, although Commons came on late in the game. There was also no Wanyama for half the match. The centre of Celtic’s midfield suddenly consisted of the 19-year-old Filip Twardzik and another 19-year-old, Jackson Irvine, who was making his debut. Georgios Samaras and Anthony Stokes were also not around.

And then there’s the new guys. Last weekend, Miku was part of a Getafe team that beat Real Madrid 2-1 in La Liga, a Real Madrid side that contained, either from the start or off the bench, such luminaries as Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil. He didn’t score, but that’s maybe because Jose Mourinho would have had a plan for him after last season when Miku scored against them twice. Against defenders of the quality of Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe, Ramos and Marcelo, the Celtic player, here for a year but with an option to buy, stood out.

There are some interesting new faces at Parkhead. Clearly, Lennon loves his new Nigerian centre-half, Efe Ambose and has high hopes for another striker, Lassad Nououi, a 6ft 2in target man, previously with Deportivo in the second tier of the Spanish league, but Miku looks the marquee act, the one with all the pedigree.