Tim Clancy displayed predatory skills which would have been admired by any striker, the Hibs star sniffing out the merest hint of an opening as Celtic stars Fraser Forster and Mikael Lustig dithered before snapping it up with a clinical finish.
It may have looked as if it was a regular occurrence, such was the assurance with which Clancy silenced Celtic Park but, incredibly, it was the Easter Road defender’s first goal in almost six years in the SPL, his last having come as he plied his trade in English non-League football.
But, as the 28-year-old conceded today, he couldn’t have picked a better place to break his duck, his goal cancelling out Lustig’s early opener and helping Pat Fenlon’s side depart for home with a precious point secured while the draw extended their unbeaten run to four matches as what the manager has described as a “half-decent” start to the season continues.
The sight of Clancy chasing down Forster and Lustig as they debated which of them should deal with David Wotherspoon’s apparently harmless ball over the top had the travelling support rubbing their eyes in disbelief, the right back having abandoned his defensive duties with, as it turned out, great effect.
As goalkeeper Forster and Lustig left the ball to each other, Clancy poked out a toe to knock it beyond both of them before walking it into the empty net for a moment he’ll never forget.
But just what was he doing so far from his usual defensive beat? The former Kilmarnock and Motherwell star said: “The gaffer wants the full backs to get forward so I had gone on a run and just continued it. I think the ball checked on the turf between the two of them, I got my toe to it and thankfully it went past them and I was able to run on and knock it into the net.
“It was my first goal in Scotland, my last was playing non-League football in England before I joined Kilmarnock but what better place to get it? I obviously enjoyed the goal, but more important was the result.”
Hibs had to do it the hard way, though. goalkeeper Ben Williams spilling Filip Twardzik’s low free-kick for Lustig to get on the end of the rebound, leaving James McPake and Paul Hanlon to desperately throw themselves at the ball but unable to stop Celtic going in front again with the Easter Road skipper credited with the last touch before it crossed the line.
Fenlon’s players, however, took the setback in their stride, refused to capitulate and silenced the home fans again as Paul Cairney, as Clancy had done, claimed his first goal for his new club, dancing through three challenges before slotting a low shot across Forster and into the far corner of the net.
Former Partick Thistle midfielder Cairney, who scored 15 goals for the Jags last season, revealed afterwards he’d felt he was due a goal, and Clancy wholeheartedly agreed saying: “Paul is getting used to the SPL but he is easily good enough for this level. He’s a good football player, he’s very clever with the ball at his feet, he makes things happen and if we can get him on the ball in dangerous positions he’ll produce more of that.
“It was a fantastic goal, a real piece of magic in their box.”
While conceding Hibs had ridden their luck at times – Celtic striker Gary Hooper twice hitting the woodwork in the first half – Clancy, like Fenlon, insisted he and his team-mates deserved at least a little credit for their performance, one which was in marked contrast to the display produced only a few days earlier as the Edinburgh club crashed out of the Scottish Communities League Cup at the hands of Second Division Queen of the South.
The Irishman said: “I don’t think too many teams will go to Celtic Park, go behind twice and still get something out of the game. It was a big result for us having gone behind after just ten minutes but we showed our character. We put the game in Dumfries behind us, got on the ball and passed it around quite well.
“Yes, we rode our luck at times but that’s always going to happen when you go somewhere like that. They are going to have a lot of possession and chances. But we said at half-time we’d done all right. We started the second half really well and hit the post ourselves before I scored and even when we fell behind again we believed in ourselves.”
With no game for a fortnight as domestic competition is put into cold storage for the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign, Clancy admitted that following events at Palmerston Park it was important he and his team-mates gave their fans something to cheer about. He said: “It would have been a long time and no doubt the performance against Queen of the South would have been hanging over us throughout that time.
“But now we go into the break on a positive note. Even although we’d put in a poor display in the Cup the fans were still there, singing through the whole game so they deserved to go away a bit happier.
“We’ve had a decent run in the League, coming from behind in the derby to draw, winning away at St Mirren and then at home to St Johnstone and now a good point from Celtic Park so it’s been a decent start considering the season Hibs had last year.”
Hibs will return from the break with home games against Kilmarnock and Inverness Caley, fixtures which all Hibs fans will be hoping will provide added impetus but, as far as Clancy is concerned, it’s one game at a time.
He said: “It’s important for us to carry on as we have been but we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves. Kilmarnock are next up, we’ll be focusing solely on that one and if we can play as we did against Celtic then hopefully that will bring another positive result.”