Hibs’ admirable tenacity – and their commendable facing down of adversity that left them without at least half a dozen starters before then losing Kevin Nisbet early on – certainly must be factored in to the halting of a winning run in the cinch Premiership for Ange Postecoglou’s men that stood at eight games.
Yet, in truth, the final outcome was more about the direction of travel for Celtic for a number of weeks now – even apart from their home and away filletings by Bodo/Glimt in the Conference League. Since they demolished Motherwell 4-0 at Fir Park, a sluggishness has crept into Celtic’s displays that single-goal wins have glossed over.
Certain misfiring elements witnessed in passages of recent domestic games all came together for about 85 minutes as Shaun Maloney’s men – who didn’t produce a single shot on target – proved as obdurate as their visitors were uninspired for long stretches. Even if the Celtic manager contended otherwise in believing all that was lacking from his team was a goal; Postecoglou rejecting any suggestions his team was missing a spark, or didn’t pass the ball with their usual crispness.
An encounter between two coaching aesthetics whose teams were largely reduced to artisanship didn’t look from the stands as the Australian called it. Privately, Postecoglou would have hoped for a renewed brio from his team through restoring the seven first-picks he left out of the starting line-up for their miserable 2-0 defeat in Norway on Thursday.
Instead, much of Celtic’s approach play was imprecise before they began to pose a serious threat in the closing minutes against a home side that defended in numbers, and as if their lives depended on repelling their opponents.
A meandering confrontation, the only efforts on target across the first hour came from two Celtic free-kicks. Matt Macey was athletic to tip over from a rising Josip Juranovic deadball from 20-yards just on the interval, but the Hibs keeper had no trouble gobbling up aa Matt O’Riley free-kick truck tamely straight at him.
Macey was alert to prevent Leil Abada rounding him in about the only other clear opening in the first period, and he had willing helpers with Josh Campbell bravely throwing himself in front of an O’Riley close-rangers late on. Taking his lead from Chris Mueller thwarting Reo Hatate earlier with similar courageous abandon.
Celtic’s winning run in a tight title race wasn’t going to be everlasting and with 18 wins and now four draws across a 22-game unbeaten run they remain in good shape. However, that won’t be the case if their fizzing football proves in as short supply as it was on Leith – whatever Postecoglou might choose to believe. On that score, there will already be some of a Celtic disposition whose knees will knocking at the prospect of next week’s trip to their bogey team/ground with an away day at Livingston. Which happens to be the scene of their last domestic defeat, all of five months ago.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.