Normally an early goal against Celtic signals trouble ahead for opposition foolhardy enough to have taken the lead. Hibs delivered a wake-up call in the form of Vykintas Slivka’s opener just 46 seconds into this early afternoon kick-off. Hibernian were still awaiting the fierce response they expected would be triggered by such impertinence when they scored a second shortly before the hour mark.
This was not just any goal either. It was one fit to decide any match. Florian Kamberi rocketed a shot past Craig Gordon into the roof of his net with his right foot to end a period of lean form for him personally.
Even then Celtic could not be roused. There was still over half an hour left following Kamberi’s strike. But Celtic were unable to test Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano. They failed to stretch him throughout in fact. Only James Forrest managed a shot on target and this was sent straight at the goalkeeper. Some crosses flashed across the goal but no-one showed the required determination or displayed a striker’s instinct to get on the end of them.
Scott Brown did show a flash of rage and it really should have led to his afternoon being cut short – the fate befalling his victim, Slivka. Brown’s challenge after 36 minutes looked robust when witnessed live and grew worse – much worse – when viewed again via replays. Referee Don Robertson booked him at the time but Brown will know he got away with a very agricultural challenge that ultimately led to Slivka being removed from the fray with severe bruising to a foot.
The Lithuanian packed a lot into his 45 minutes on the pitch. Indeed, he needed around 45 seconds to make his mark. Slivka was involved near his own corner flag as Celtic sought to mount their first attack and helped Steven Whittaker out of trouble by playing a one-two. The Hibs right-back sent the ball towards Oli Shaw, whose intelligent lay-off found Slivka, who had continued his run up the park.
The mercurial midfielder transferred the ball from his right to his left foot and directed a curling shot past Craig Gordon. Slivka only scores against the Old Firm; this was his third Hibs goal, all of which have come against Celtic and Rangers. He scored in a 2-1 win over Celtic last season and also notched in a 3-2 victory over Rangers in the same campaign.
Meek, shot-shy and ultimately out-classed, Celtic delivered a worrying glimpse of life without a clutch of first-team regulars. Injured trio Kieran Tierney, Mikael Lustig and Ryan Christie were all missing. Christie, who until recently would have been identified as a squad player, has become so integral to Celtic’s output they looked lost without him.
Leigh Griffiths’ absence, for different reasons, was also marked. The home fans unveiled a banner with the message: Stay Strong Sparky. He scored a winner against his old club last season and how Rodgers could have done with the option of at least bringing him on in a bid to ignite the flat champions.
This was one of those afternoons where Rodgers appeared to be making a point with his substitutions. This seemed particularly apparent when taking off lone striker Odsonne Edouard for Mikey Johnston. The uncomfortable truth is the latter, a winger, caused Hibs more problems in the 17 minutes he was on than any of his teammates who started.
Every so often Celtic are capable of producing this type of performance, particularly on the road. There was one at Tynecastle earlier in the season. Edouard’s booking for simulation summed up an afternoon where Celtic clutched desperately for something, anything, to enliven them. They have won just three times away from Celtic Park in the league this season.
A smaller than usual band of Celtic supporters looked on – their allocation had been cut by Hibs in a seemingly misguided attempt to let more of their own fans in. The result was that half the stand lay almost empty save for a couple of hundred of home fans.
Still, this wasn’t a must–see spectacle for Celtic fans. A long way from it in fact. Hibs supporters, by contrast, relished the return to form we associate more the Hibs of last season. After seven matches without a win, they’ve collected successive victories and kept two clean sheets. They also had their own, perhaps more profound, problems in terms of personnel – the hosts were missing seven first-team regulars, including danger man Martin Boyle.
Kamberi responded well to recent criticism, from Hibs assistant manger Garry Parker among others, to lead the line effectively while also scoring one of the goals of the season. “He’s been half there for weeks,” said Neil Lennon afterwards as if to underline it was about time the striker shone again.
There were also significant contributions from unexpected sources. Sean Mackie is someone it’s possible even some Hibs fans were unaware of until yesterday. The 20 year-old came on after the interval to replace Slivka. Mackie, a left-back, was even asked to play out of position at left-midfield.
He had already swung in a couple of dangerous balls when Hibs broke upfield quickly after Olivier Ntcham hit the wall with a free-kick. Mackie was alert to Kamberi’s unchecked run and sent a long ball from the left flank towards the Swiss striker. Kamberi still had much to do and he chested the ball down before running into the box and rifling a fierce shot into the rigging.