Hibs reaction: Shaw close to history but boss pleased with point
Oli Shaw is already making a name for himself but the Hibs kid almost wrote his name into the history books as he came within a whisker of ending Celtic's record breaking unbeaten run.
Two Scott Sinclair goals within the space of five minutes at the beginning of the second half appeared to end this match as far as Neil Lennon’s players were concerned.
But, from somewhere, the Capital outfit found the strength, desire and determination to go again, stunning Brendan Rodgers’ side as they earned themselves what was, ultimately, a thoroughly-deserved point.
It was not enough to stop Celtic clocking up a 68th game without defeat, but Hibs displayed a never-say die approach which had their opponents reeling, Efe Ambrose forcing home their first goal via a deflection off Scott Brown before Shaw, who scored his first Hibs goal in the Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic in October, fired home an equaliser.
And deep into added-on time, the 19-year-old almost won it, his shot after Craig Gordon had spilled a harmless cross destined for the net until Mikael Lustig appeared from nowhere to take the ball off his own line and so preserve Celtic’s run.
Regardless of the outcome of the third meeting of the season between these two sides, a measure of how times have changed at Easter Road since they last clashed in the Capital was evident to see in the four packed stands. Back in January, 2014, a 4-0 win for Celtic, like this match televised live on television, was witnessed by a crowd of just 12,542, visiting supporters making up some 3800 of that number.
This time round, there wasn’t a seat to be had, the Hoops fans again taking up their full allocation for the South Stand, while the renewed optimism which has swept over Hibs in the past couple of seasons was evidenced by the attendance of 20,193 meaning there were some 8000 more Hibs supporters, a quite remarkable achievement.
Little wonder, though, when they are being treated to such excitement. The side which languished in the Championship for three years are relishing their return to the big time and not looking at all out of place as they find themselves embroiled in a three-way battle with Rangers and Aberdeen for second place in the Premiership.
The Ibrox outfit and the Dons are next up in what is a taxing week for Hibs but they’ll approach those two games well aware that on their day they are more than capable of matching the best the country has to offer.
Lennon said: “Psychologically, we are going to get a lift, particularly the way we finished the game but we are not going to come up against a team of Celtic’s quality every week.
“If we’d broken Celtic’s record we would have been fortunate. I have to be happy with the result because there were aspects of our performance that did not please me. For the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half they were physically better than us, we were not aggressive enough.
“But we showed tremendous character to come back into the game. We could have won it and we could have lost it so I have to be really pleased with the point.”
Twice now Hibs have drawn with Celtic, Lennon admitting: “I’m pleased with that. We maybe deserved to win at Celtic Park and Celtic maybe deserved to win today. But we have matched them as best we could. I think we can play better as a team although it’s a real acid test for the players to play against a team of that quality.”
Temperatures still hadn’t nudged above freezing before the lunch-time start, a dusting of frost still covering the pitch despite the undersoil heating. But the match got underway at a sizzling pace, Lewis Stevenson coming up with a goal-saving challenge on Callum McGregor as he latched on to Olivier Ntcham’s pass within two minutes.
Hibs midfielder John McGinn, restored to the starting line-up after a one-match suspension, admitted that he’d been “bullied” by Celtic skipper Scott Brown in the early days of his career.
But while there is now a healthy respect between the pair, the Easter Road man showed he’s no longer cowed by Brown’s presence, thundering into an early challenge which was judged by referee John Beaton as a foul. And he was first to react to a loose ball on the fringes of the Celtic area before being felled a step outside it by Lustig.
However, that was a rare threat from the home side in the opening 20 minutes as Celtic dominated possession, an offside flag halting Scott Sinclair before Dylan McGeouch’s poor pass across the front of his own penalty box was picked off by James Forrest, who scorned a glorious opportunity to open the scoring by dragging his shot wide with only Ofir Marciano to beat.
Having survived that let-off, Hibs tested Gordon for the first time, McGinn sending a sumptuous crossfield ball over the head of Kieran Tierney for Martin Boyle to chest down and fire in a low shot from an angle which the Celtic goalkeeper knocked away with his legs at his front post.
Lennon was clearly becoming exasperated at some of the hurried clearances being made as his players attempted to clear their lines, the net return being the ball quickly finding its way back deep into their territory with Anthony Stokes an isolated figure in that thankless role of lone striker.
It had been very much backs-to-the wall stuff from Hibs for long spells in the first half but they were hanging in there and, despite Celtic’s dominance – the statistics showed the Hoops had enjoyed 64 per cent of the ball – the interval came without Marciano being forced into any really meaningful action.
That, however, changed eight minutes into the second period. Sinclair, who had largely been anonymous, held off Steven Whittaker as he bored into Hibs penalty area only to find his way to goal blocked by the feet of Marciano with Efe Ambrose booting Tierney’s attempt on the rebound to safety.
But Sinclair wasn’t to be denied, another shot blocked only to fall into the path of Odsonne Edouard whose effort crashed back off the post and straight to his team-mate, who slotted it beyond the helpless Marciano.
As so often happens, it wasn’t long until Celtic – and Sinclair – had a second goal, the winger cutting inside Whittaker and unleashing a shot which took a deflection off Marvin Bartley which left Marciano flat-footed as the ball spun high into his net. The game looked well beyond Hibs but they left Celtic shaking their heads in disbelief as Ambrose forced home a shot via a deflection off Scott Brown before Shaw again found the net against the Hoops, taking Lewis Stevenson’s pass and hammering the ball high beyond Gordon.
And then came that incredible finale, Shaw denied the goal three minutes into added-on time which would have put his name up in lights only for Sinclair to spurn an even later chance to win it for Celtic. As Lennon said: “We could have won it and we could have lost it so I have to be pleased with the point.”