Celtic: Scott Brown puts Hibs talisman in his place as he sets up third Old Firm final - after turning down Australia switch

If things had panned out differently, Scott Brown could have been lining up alongside Scott McDonald for Western United in their derby victory over Melbourne Victory at the weekend.
Scott Brown scored twice as he helped Celtic to a 5-2 win over former club HibsScott Brown scored twice as he helped Celtic to a 5-2 win over former club Hibs
Scott Brown scored twice as he helped Celtic to a 5-2 win over former club Hibs

A move to the A-League, which he was giving serious consideration to this time last year, would have been interpreted as semi-retirement after years at the sharp end of football with Celtic.

He knew that and concluded now was not the time, signing a new two-year deal with the champions shortly afterwards. Which is why we found him still in his element on a grimey Saturday evening in Glasgow as he drove his side into a Betfred Cup final we now know is against Rangers next month.

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It’s an occasion Brown would have hated to miss out on had he chosen to head down under. He has only ever played in two Old Firm finals, winning one and losing the other.

His former club Hibs are the latest team to wish he had accepted the offer to head to warmer climes, Scott Allan the latest opponent.

Brown’s modus operandi was clear from the opening minutes when he crashed into Allan, his one-time Celtic teammate, and won a 50-50.

They duelled enjoyably for the rest of the evening, the Hibs midfielder coming off worse as he watched Brown take a stranglehold on the area of the park and the game. There’s little question which of the two admittedly very different midfielders would enhance Scotland’s cause right now.

It even threatened to get feisty between the pair towards the end, but they embraced warmly after the final whistle, Allan perhaps accepting that he had, like so many opponents across the years, been put back in his box by the 34-year-old Brown.

It does feel as if the Celtic skipper gets it too much his own way at times. At one point the game was stopped by referee Bobby Madden to let him tie his bootlace. But there was little denying he had earned the right to strut towards the Celtic supporters at the end after augmenting a typically influential performance with not just one goal, but two.

Brown and Mohamed Elyounoussi are two very different players but they dovetailed well on Saturday, scoring four goals between them (Callum McGregor got the other) and even combining for Celtic’s fifth in the final minute. It was expertly tucked away by Brown with his left foot after his initial right foot effort had been blocked by Chris Maxwell.

Both Brown and Elyounoussi will be vital for different reasons when Celtic face Lazio in Rome in Thursday’s Europa League group fixture. The former won’t allow anyone to bully him while the latter’s guile can unpick defences and he can also provide a goal threat – Elyounoussi scored with a header and a tap-in on Saturday, his sixth and seventh goals in 10 games since joining on loan from Southampton.

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He has also contributed four assists as he grows increasingly at home in the Celtic starting XI after being used sparingly at Southampton, where Fraser Forster, also now on loan at Celtic from the club, could empathise with his plight.

“Obviously he had a tough year last year as well, it is amazing what a bit of love and confidence can for you,” said the goalkeeper.

“Ever since he scored that first goal he has not looked back. He keeps chipping in and contributing and that’s fantastic for us he is doing that.

“It is just a positive, multiplying effect. Last year he did not really play much football at all. He has come here and you need that run of games in the team. It’s hard to come in and be expected to do it from day one. But he’s come in, had a few 90 minutes under his belt and scored and had assists. His confidence can only grow and grow if he is doing that.

"I am absolutely delighted for him," he added. "I know more than anyone how hard it was for him last year. And he just looks like a completely different player.”

As Forster acknowledged, this semi-final was a strange game. When Hibs got the ball on the ground, they caused Celtic some problems and yet, had two chances just after half-time hit the net rather than posts, it might have become truly ugly for the Easter Road side and, more specifically, their already under pressure manager Paul Heckingbottom.

When James Forrest was taken off by Neil Lennon in preference for the more defensively-minded Hatem Abd Elhamed after 66 minutes, it prompted a shout from behind the press seats: “C’mon Hibs, they are shi**ing themselves!”

It was 4-2 to Celtic at the time.

Florian Kamberi’s half-time introduction did help ignite Hibs for a spell, and he added a fine headed goal to Melker Hallberg’s opportunistic effort eight minutes before half-time.

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Are such bursts of spirit enough to save Paul Heckingbottom? Is a two-goal comeback against Livingston last midweek, and now this, fending off total collapse, what owner Ron Gordon is looking for?

The two forthcoming league games against St Johnstone and Motherwell are sure to tell us more about the manager’s long-term prospects.

“We need to put this (defeat) to bed now,” said skipper Paul Hanlon. “It was a chance to get to a cup final, but it’s gone now and it’s important to start putting points on the board in the league.

“I think it’s down to small margins,” he said, when asked whether he’s confident Hibs can start moving up the league.

“We’ve had a lot of draws in there. But we’ve definitely dropped our standards in games, like Livingston when losing two quick goals really put us on the back foot.

“We need to cut it out right away and put in a 90-minute performance, which we haven’t done for a while.”