Joel Sked gives his on Celtic’s 4-2 win over Hibs in the semi-final of the Betfred Cup which saw a pedestrian first-half make way for a gripping finale.
60 going on...
Celtic weren’t at their best. Actually, they were a long way from it.
One of the main talking points in the build-up to the game was Brendan Rodgers’ complaints over scheduling. From playing Bayern Munich on Wednesday evening in Germany to the early game on Saturday. It is a familiar complaint from managers who do understand the power of television when it comes to scheduling*. What it does do however is help create a ‘them against us’ siege mentality among the squad.
The Northern Irishman will have known his side were more than good enough to deal with fixtures thick and fast. Heck, they are not on an unbeaten domestic run of 60 games for nothing.
Watching on, however, and it looked, at times, that Celtic had played Bayern on Thursday and Friday night as well. There wasn’t the usual zest from the Hoops, nor was there that ‘we are so superior than you it’s like we are PSG and you are Celtic’ control.
The passive nature and relatively slow pace of the opening 45 minutes suited Celtic. As did some very questionable goalkeeping from Ross Laidlaw.
Before Kevin Clancy’s penalty award the game was heading only one way with Celtic not having to trouble third gear.
• READ MORE: Hibs 2 - 4 Celtic: How the Celtic players rated
The award changed the flow of the game. This writer will admit, I’m still not completely sure whether it was a penalty. Clancy was having to peer around Hibs players and saw Dedryck Boyata clatter into Martin Boyle at pace. But the ball moved in a direction which suggested Boyata got a strong foot on the ball. Close-up angles showed Boyle getting a touch on the ball and then Boyata (I am heavily leaning towards no penalty - both players’ reactions tell their own story).
Even with Hibs’ tails up, Celtic still largely played within themselves but with moments of quality.
There is little else to say about this Celtic team on the domestic level. Well, until Wednesday.
*If the game was moved to Sunday it would mean Hibs play two games in three games with the Edinburgh derby on Tuesday. Celtic are in Aberdeen on Wednesday. Both games have been chosen for TV.
Be worried...Moussa’s back
It’s been a stop start campaign for Moussa Dembele. Thankfully for Celtic they’ve got a striker in Leigh Griffiths who, it can be argued, is currently Dembele’s equal.
It is not a bad situation to have when both are fit, as seen at Hampden Park.
Griffiths fought manfully in attack but lacked support with Roberts’s performance best described as ‘futile endeavour’ and Scott Sinclair on the periphery. At best. It meant for the second time in a week Griffiths had to go it alone but found Paul Hanlon in fantastic form.
He did contribute however, Beyond his constant movement he provided a number of teasing set pieces. Bizarrely there are still some who wonder why he isn’t in the box for corners and free-kicks. Answer: because he is more useful over dead balls.
• READ MORE: Hibs 2 - 4 Celtic: How the Hibs players rated
As for Dembele, he possesses this aura when he is on the pitch. He unnerves players with his range of physical and technical skills. He may have missed a one on one but the chance was sandwiched with two very wall taken goals. Both were fine forward play complete with a composed finish.
Prior to the game Rodgers said he saw signs that the Frenchman was getting back to where he was last season. That was there for everyone to see at Hampden Park. Which must worry every other team in Scotland.
Neil Lennon got it wrong...then got it right
There were similarities between Saturday afternoon’s defeat and the loss to Aberdeen in last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final. A relatively disappointing first half followed by an inspired second half.
Hibs earned praise for their forthright performance at Celtic Park two weeks ago, while Celtic were coming off the back of a testing European night. As the first half progressed Celtic weren’t at their controlling, energetic best. They were largely passive in and out of possession, but Hibs appeared reluctant to really take the game to them.
Lennon’s men moved the ball well but allowed Celtic to settle into shape, while struggled to turn the defence due to Anthony Stokes’ lack of pace. There was little penetration, from either side.
A double change was made and Hibs, with nothing to lose took the game to Celtic with pace on either wing and caused trouble. Celtic were discomforted, forcing Rodgers to go to his bench to change the direction of the game.
Hibs’ square pegs in round holes
Without going overboard on a very competent manager, Lennon got the set-up wrong as above. There was also the issue of personnel.
Three of Hibs’ best players were not playing in their strongest position. Stokes was asked to play a lone striker role. While being more than good enough to do so, it doesn’t get the best out of the Irishman. He’s at his best dropping off a frontman, linking play. He is not adept at running in behind and he isn’t as productive with his back to goal, especially when he doesn’t have runners moving beyond him.
Stokes fought against Celtic’s centre-backs manfully, helped by excellent control. But he had a greater influence in the second half when moved slightly deeper.
It was identical to Dylan McGeouch. It could be argued that if it wasn’t for injuries the 24-year-old may have been held in higher esteem than colleague John McGinn, such is his natural talent. Yet, despite the number on his back, he is not a number 10. He failed to affect the game in any way behind Stokes, dropping too deep at times and not getting into dangerous areas in the final third.
Surprisingly he was kept on and Marvin Bartley was taken off but it was a great decision by Lennon, with McGeouch rising to become the best player on the pitch in the second half in a scheming midfield role where he was busy out of possession and slick inside it.
One moment stood out when under pressure from Scott Brown. Most players would have been spooked and tried to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Composed, McGeouch eased his way around him and got Hibs on the attack.
The final player is Vykintas Slivka. Another slick midfield player, he is, if not wasted, certainly neutered playing wide.
The issue Lennon faces is getting the abundant of talented players into a formation which brings out the best in both the individual and the collective.
No longer a boyband
While questions can be asked about team set-up and personnel, one thing Lennon has got right is the team’s mentality.
On taking over from Alan Stubbs, Lennon spoke of his desire to instil a stronger mentality into the side, making reference to a boyband attitude he felt ran through the club in years gone by.
In the last 16 months or so Lennon has chipped away at it, using both carrot and stick, in amusing measure.
There is still a tendency to reach for the phrases of old, such as ‘Hibs’d it’ or ‘typical Hibs’, but it is not as relevant any more. They’ve been to Celtic and held there own, beat Rangers at Ibrox in front of a baying home crowd, while big games at Hampden when they’ve been up against it, they’ve just about held in there and responded.