Hibs midfielder Scott Brown departed Easter Road on a high note as he scored against the club he was set to join for £4.5million.
It was a fitting way for Brown to bow out after eight years with the club, where he had been since the age of 14.
The sun shone on Leith for much of a satisfying afternoon as Hibs ended a barren streak with their first win since the CIS Insurance Cup final in March, thanks to goals from Brown and Ivan Sproule against an under strength Celtic side which were preparing for the Scottish Cup final.
Brown delivered a typically exuberant contribution. His second-half goal, in which he was both supplier and finisher, was richly deserved for a swashbuckling performance which matched determination with skill. Little wonder both sets of supporters rose to applaud a rare talent.
Brown’s urgent and tenacious play gave his new employers a reminder of what they had paid for and his old club a glimpse of what they would miss. When Celtic’s Darren O’Dea fouled his future team-mate in the first half, Brown reacted with in-your-face aggression and was cheered to the rafters by the Hibs supporters for so obviously playing from the heart.
Following a bleak run of nine games without a win since their CIS Cup final victory over Kilmarnock Hibs did not lack motivation to end the season on a high note and were thrilled when Sproule came off the bench to help them return to winning ways. While the home side saw more of the ball in the early stages and forced a series of corners, the lack of a cutting edge up front was evident.
Hibs were the busier, more fluent team for long spells, but fell behind to a flash of Derek Riordan’s opportunism which exploited defensive hesitancy. Thanks to the ebullience of Brown and the persistence of Sproule, Hibs eventually finished worthy winners.
Although he looked alert in latching on to Merouane Zemmama’s pass, Steven Fletcher’s first-half shot was easily blocked by John Kennedy. This was typical of an opening 45 minutes in which Hibs kept possession well enough without greatly troubling Mark Brown on his debut. The former Inverness goalkeeper did not have a save to make until the 30th minute when he turned Zemmama’s low shot round a post.
Playing at a moderate pace, it took Celtic until the 15th minute to stir themselves when Teddy Bjarnason clipped a 20-yard shot towards the top left-hand corner of the net. Andy McNeil saw the effort late but did well to get a finger to the ball and touch it on to the bar.
Apart from a galloping run by Craig Beattie and an off-target shot by Thomas Gravesen, Celtic offered little of note until Beattie had the ball in the net after 48 minutes. The striker was in an offside position, however, and the effort did not count. While it was mostly Hibs who pounded forward, Celtic made the home side pay for a tendency to over-elaborate with a simple goal in the 56th minute. From Gary Caldwell’s free-kick, Riordan chased a lost cause and nipped in to score from a tight angle. At his near post, goalkeeper McNeil knew he should not have been beaten.
The swift response from the home side was positive. From McNeil’s quick throw to Brown, the midfielder rampaged forward from his own half. Zemmama fed Dean Shiels whose bristling run down the right ended with a deflected cross which Brown met with a diving header into the corner of the net.
If there were no great prizes at stake, passions still ran high. Beattie was fortunate not be ordered off for lifting his hands to Rob Jones and Sproule was booked within seconds of appearing as a substitute. The Ulsterman saved the best for last though when he cut inside O’Dea, dodged goalkeeper Brown and poked a last-minute winning goal through the legs of McManus.
Hibs: McNeil, McCann, Murphy, Hogg, Jones, Stevenson, Whittaker, Brown, Zemmmama, Shiels, Fletcher.