“We’ve got McGinn, super John McGinn,” sang the delirious Hibs supporters as the midfielder’s stunning double strike threatened to end Celtic’s 16-month unbeaten run against Scottish opposition.
But as the chants rang out, there would have been the nagging thought at the back of their minds that every performance such as that he produced at Celtic Park will only hasten the 22-year-old’s departure from Easter Road.
Yes, the former St Mirren man still has the best part of two years left on his contract, but already Hibs have been forced to fend off interest from elsewhere, resisting a string of offers from Nottingham Forest which rose to £1.5 million as the last transfer window closed.
At that stage Neil Lennon, pictured below, valued the Capital club’s prize asset at £5m, a figure he insisted can only have increased in the light of his display against his boyhood heroes Celtic, where manager Brendan Rodgers is known to be an admirer. A performance which came within ten minutes of smashing the Hoops’ 57 games without defeat in domestic competition.
Whether Hibs could hold out for the sort of sums Lennon talks of when it comes to McGinn is debatable, but there is little doubt that come January the Edinburgh outfit’s determination to hold onto him could be seriously tested.
Whether Celtic – where McGinn’s grandfather Jack was chairman and a venue for which the youngster held a season ticket for 15 years – could find a place for even his talent is open to question, but a bidding war would seem certain, a scenario which would play into Hibs’ hands regardless of their reluctance to part company.
By the time the next transfer window opens McGinn may well have added to his growing reputation, the loss of Scott Brown and his Celtic team-mate Stuart Armstrong ahead of Scotland’s final two World Cup matches thrusting him very much into the reckoning to face Slovakia and Slovenia, not to mention a Betfred Cup semi-final against the Glasgow side later in the month.
Lennon himself has little doubt his player will rise to such challenges, saying: “In McGinn we have an outstanding talent who has delivered time and again, but certainly on the big stage.
“In the second half he was perfect, absolutely perfect. He controlled the game, broke the play up, scored two magnificent goals and nearly created another. Everything about his game was what you would want from a modern midfield player.”
In the end McGinn admitted he’d departed Celtic Park a little disappointed Hibs hadn’t held out for a memorable win as Callum McGregor, who had put the home side ahead early in the first half, claimed his own second after the Hibs player had twice left Hoops goalkeeper Craig Gordon helpless with two vicious strikes.
If ex-Hearts man Gordon was unable to do anything about them, Celtic had the Scotland No.1 to thank for what many believed was a save to match the sensational reflex stop he pulled off to deny Bolton’s Zat Knight when playing for Sunderland seven years ago – later voted the best in the history of the Premier League.
Steven Whittaker was just about to begin celebrating when he got on the end of Anthony Stokes’ knock-down from McGinn’s corner little more than a yard from Celtic’s line, only for Gordon to come from nowhere, throwing himself across his line to claw the ball away.
Gordon reckoned his stop in the Stadium of Light was more spectacular, sending the ball high over the bar, but this one was just as effective, Stokes describing his effort as “ridiculous”.
“I thought it was a goal, 100 per cent,” admitted Stokes, “But he ends up getting some hand on it. I’d flicked on the corner and I was just waiting for Whitts to turn it in, but Craig’s reactions made it an unbelievable save.
“He pulled off a worldy. It was one of those you just think he is never going to get.”
Celtic could claim the absence of Brown and Armstrong, combined with their exertions over the past week in which they’d won the first Old Firm clash of the season and beaten Anderlecht away in the Champions League, had exerted a toll on them.
Rodgers, however, has such a squad he was also able to drop Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts to the bench, only to draft in the likes of Australian internationalist Tom Rogic, the Republic of Ireland’s Jonny Hayes, and Moussa Dembele.
Lennon, though, got his tactics and formation spot-on, Vykintas Slivka and Marvin Bartley shielding the back four, Stokes operating up-front alone but with the support of McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Martin Boyle breaking from behind him.
The Hibs boss said: “It was not just the result but the performance that pleased me more than anything. We just didn’t want to come and park the bus, we didn’t want to come and be gallant losers. We just didn’t come and make life difficult for Celtic, we came and played.
“We could have been better in the final third in the first half. We set traps and we broke three or four times when we should have made more of it. We were just a little bit impatient, but second half we were fantastic.
“We took the game to Celtic at every opportunity. The game could have gone either way, it was in the balance, but I am very pleased to come away with a point. I was very proud of my team, very proud of my players, they delivered on a really big stage.”
Even with the game evenly poised, Lennon wasn’t content to settle for the draw, withdrawing his holding midfielders Slivka and Bartley, replacing them with on-loan Manchester City winger Brandon Barker and top scorer Simon Murray as he sought that elusive winner.
He said: “I know from experience it’s good to play Celtic after a big European night. They have had massive games and they can mentally and physically tire out, so we tried to take advantage of that. We needed to take every advantage we could get, but the players played marvellous football.”