“The difference between the teams is the £10 million striker. He’s tops and he makes the difference and I know that’s what it takes sometimes,” said the Easter Road manager. “That’s the difference in games like today.”
That man was Leigh Griffiths, the Hibernian fan and former player, who netted his first career goal against his boyhood heroes.
The fact that he departed the field just four minutes later was a source of relief for the travelling contingent, although it was far from ideal for Celtic, who will now step up their bid to land Chelsea’s attacking midfielder Charly Musonda on loan.
While the Parkhead club can address their weaknesses, adding a goalkeeper to their winter shopping list after Craig Gordon hobbled off at half-time with a knee injury that could rule him out the upcoming Europa League action, and splashing cash to reinvigorate their forward ranks, Lennon is well aware of his limitations.
This game was Brendan Rodgers’ 100th in charge of Celtic and it saw his side march on relentlessly. More than three-quarters of that century at the helm have been in domestic action and only one of those has ended in defeat and this game was an example of how they have managed that.
All it took was that one goal and Hibernian will be disappointed with the part they played in it. It was a ball crossed in deep by Kieran Tierney and although the Easter Road captain Paul Hanlon got to it first, his touch only played it into the path of Griffiths, who was waiting to pounce and fired it back across Ofir Marciano’s goal and inside the far post.
Eight years to the day since they had last recorded a win at Celtic Park, Hibs started the game with intent. Laying their cards on the table early, they warned their hosts that they had made the trip west looking for a greater reward than their last trip, when they had been close to leaving with a victory before Callum McGregor equalised.
This time Celtic knew what to expect, though, and while they never reached the high standards they are capable of they still did enough to see out the game. The could have made life more comfortable if they had buried one or two more of the opportunities that came their way but, in the end, thanks to their guests’ inadequacies in front of goal, that extra cushion was not required.
Celtic were kicking themselves as they blew a gilt-edged opening in the 14th minute after Dylan McGeouch brought down Celtic’s McGregor on the edge of the area. Griffiths took the set piece and Marciano was superb in getting his hands to it but couldn’t hold and as the ball spun out it was Scott Sinclair who reacted first but the Celtic winger was left shame-faced as he played it onto the bar from close range.
A Griffiths voilley spun just wide in the 21st minute and Hibs could have made the home side rue their profligacy a minute later when Brandon Barker found himself through one on one with Gordon but could not get his effort past the Scotland international.
A calf injury saw a distraught Griffiths trudge off in the 32nd minute, replaced by Moussa Dembele but the player who has been the focus of so much transfer speculation failed to trouble the Hibs backline and it was the home defence who were left looking the shakier after Gordon failed to re-emerge for the start of the second period.
Replaced by Dorus De Vries, there was a greater degree of uncertainty and that simply stoked Hibs’ belief.
But, still blunt in the final third, for all Hibs’ possession it was Celtic who still created more.
A Olivier Ntcham delivery was picked up by Sinclair but his low effort was saved by Marciano. Hibs sent on Simon Murray, Danny Swanson and Jamie Maclaren but their best effort came from a long range McGinn effort which had De Vries diving down to his left to push the ball behind.