Scotsman Archive: Chic Charnley carves up Celtic
THE season has arrived too soon for Celtic. That fact was inescapable at Easter Road yesterday as this hastily pieced-together team had all of their flaws exposed to a nationwide television audience.
To dwell on an ordinary Celtic performance would be doing Hibs an injustice. This win was richly deserved and the margin of victory could have been greater as they struck woodwork twice. It was clear from the outset that they were the hungrier side and Celtic were rather rocked on their heels by the passion that Hibs brought into the game. Free from the shackles of relegation which had restricted them in the second half of last season, this was football with a smile on its face.
No-one exemplified it more than Chic Charnley. Not only did he contribute the winning goal with 15 minutes remaining but he was the outstanding player afield. Celtic's luminous shirts always make them difficult to miss but it was the ageing Hibs midfield player who shone like a beacon.
It looked as if the game was all a childish prank for the 34-year-old. He sold more dummies than Mothercare and, in a frantic match, always had time on the ball to settle Hibs down.
He passed with accuracy, defended with diligence and even had the audacity to try a shot at goal from inside his own half in the second-half.
For all of the millions spent in assembling this Celtic team, there was no-one to touch Charnley yesterday.
Tony Rougier provided the cross for Hibs' first goal as he curled the ball over from the left and, with Gordon Marshall hesitating, the unattended Lee Power stabbed the ball into the net almost apologetically.
This lead was to last just five minutes as Malky Mackay managed to get his head to a Simon Donnelly corner and steer the ball into the net despite the attentions of Willie Miller on the line.
Darren Jackson had a chance to put Celtic ahead after Andreas Thom had cleverly opened up the Hibs defence but the shot was poor and brought hoots of derision from the home support. They had come to jeer Jackson but left cheering Charnley.
It was the Hibs man who almost brought the house down with a left-foot shot from 35 yards which caught Marshall off his line but thumped back into play off the goal-frame.
Brian Welsh should have scored when he missed a simple header after another Charnley cross and then Steve Crawford, who had not made much impression until then, crafted an opening for himself, only to see his final shot strike both the crossbar and the post.
Celtic had chances too. Donnelly somehow scooped the ball over from eight yards with only Olafur Gottskalksson to beat, and then Jackson beat the Icelandic goalkeeper only to see Welsh hack his shot away.
The supreme irony for Celtic came when their ace card turned out to be a joker. Henrik Larsson had been left on the bench for fitness reasons and the Swede struggled with the pace of the game when he came on. He was then guilty of misplacing a pass to Charnley, who gobbled it up and set his sights before killing off Celtic with a 20-yard shot. It was the perfect end to a perfect day for him.Charnley's six-year-old daughter, Danielle, was Hibs' mascot, and this was a video the Charnley household will treasure. When the player appeared in the press lounge afterwards with Danielle, there was no disguising his delight at the way the day had turned out.
With all modesty, he heaped the praise on his team-mates John Hughes and Tony Rougier before admitting: "I feel as if the better the atmosphere then the better I tend to play. The goal was just a bonus for me." He added: "We can build on this. But there's no use getting the better of Celtic if we then get beaten by someone else."
Charnley has built up a rapport with the Easter Road crowd and left the pitch to a huge ovation. He pointed out afterwards that he had always had a close relationship with fans and, refreshingly, he sees it as part of his profession to provide entertainment.
Hibs manager, Jim Duffy, said: "We badly missed him when he was out for the last five games of last season because of suspension. When he's on his game like this, he's a joy to watch. He's an entertainer and when he plays like this, he's worth the admission money by himself. I took plenty of stick for signing him so hopefully people will appreciate him now."
The Celtic coach, Wim Jansen, said: "It's a little bit disappointing for us to lose this way. We lost the ball too many times in midfield. The opposition fought for everything so they deserved to win the game today.
"The speed of the game didn't surprise me and I tried to get my players to slow the game down a little, but we lost the ball too often. You don't like to lose but hopefully we can learn from this game and that's most important for our next game."
Hibernian: Gottskalksson; W Miller, Hughes, Welsh, Boco; Rougier, McGinlay, Charnley, Dow; Power (G Miller 83), Crawford (Tosh 89). Sub not used: Grant. Celtic: Marshall; Stubbs, Boyd, Mackay; McNamara, Jackson, Burley, Thom (Larsson 58), McKinlay (Wieghorst, 81); Donnelly, Johnson. Sub not used: Hannah.
Referee: W Young. Attendance: 13,501