HIBS UNDER-20s recorded an impressive 2-0 victory away to their Celtic counterparts at Cappielow last night to complete a double over the reigning champions.
Jason Cummings prodded home the opener on 56 minutes after a goalmouth scramble before Owain Tudur Jones drilled home a free-kick five minutes later.
The result secured a top-three berth for the side, who still have a shot at the title – pending the results of Celtic and Rangers.
The first-half was a largely open affair, Jamie Lindsay volleying over the bar for the hosts in the 11th minute with the first chance of the game.
The Hibs rearguard was then called into action. Daniel Boateng and Tom Gardiner made vital blocks from Marcus Fraser and Denny Johnstone respectively. Ryan Baptie and Duncan Watmore, brought in from the first-team squad to get some valuable game-time both went close, before Gardiner’s crucial intervention denied Paul McMullan from giving the hosts the lead.
After the break, Johnstone almost scored, but Paul Grant was able to push his powerful drive over the bar.
Soon after, the visitors seized the lead, Cummings stabbing the ball over the line following a stramash in the 56th minute.
Five minutes later, Tudur Jones added the second of the night – the 700th goal of the SPFL U20 League. From 20 yards out, the Welsh internationalist sent a powerful free-kick into the bottom corner.
The game continued at a frenetic pace. Eoghan O’Connell headed over for the hosts, before Leo Fasan had to prevent Handling from extending the lead of the Easter Road side.
Both teams had further chances, but neither could add to the scoring.
James McDonaugh, head of academy coaching at Hibs, expressed his delight as he oversaw a fourth consecutive victory over Celtic.
Alistair Stevenson, the previous youth team coach, told McDonaugh that Hibs had never beaten Celtic at this level before. Since then the side have held the Indian sign over Stephen Frail’s team.
He said of his side’s performance: “It was fantastic, I thought it was quite a tight game. In the second half I thought we improved and grew into the game and were the better team.
“I think the most pleasing thing was to win the game by more than a goal. Getting two goals and a clean sheet was a big result for us.”
McDonaugh enjoyed the display at both ends of the pitch from his side, from the resolute defending to the coruscating attacking play. The coach also said that he sets out his teams to attack, citing the old adage that goals win games.
“We set our stall out to try and win every game, it’s important that we try to create chances, and of course score them. If you defend really well, then you only get a draw, it’s goals that win you games. We’ve broken all sorts of records this season, we’ve played a lot of games, scored lots of goals and been good to watch.”
The side still find themselves in the mix for the title, something which did not cross the mind of the coach prior to the campaign.
With three games remaining, McDonaugh is looking for his side to continue recent performances and give themselves a chance to win the league.
He made the unremarkable confession that he wants his side to win the title, hinting towards the tragic passing of their team-mate and friend, David Paul, as the most poignant reason for his desire to see his squad lift the trophy.
“I’m not going to lie, to win the league would mean a lot to me, I was part of the [coaching] team that won the league in 2009. I would love to do it again,” he said.
“This year especially for the players would be great after all they’ve been through around Christmas and New Year.
“We’ll just need to look after ourselves and hopefully someone is looking, and shining down, on us and things fall our way.”
Hibs under-20s: Grant, Black, Baptie, Smith, Boateng, Gardiner, Zoubir, Jones, Cummings, Handling, Watmore. Unused substitutes: Perntreou, Dunsmore, Wilson, Crane, Todd, Sinclair, McCaffrey.