Defensive flaws and misfiring attack - talking points from Hibs loss to Celtic

Good work undermined by lapses in concentration

Celtic don’t lose games at home. Not in domestic competition, anyway. So rarely do they even drop points in front of their own fans, in fact, that such slip-ups are considered a crisis among supporters addicted to total domination of local opposition.

But Hibs travelled to Celtic Park last night harbouring genuine intent to contain, confront and compete in every key area. The fact that Nick Montgomery’s men finished up on the end of a heavy defeat cannot, then, just be written off as the same old same old.

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From self-inflicted goals to fleeting flickers of promise, individuals checking out at key moments to potential turning points, it’s not as if anyone was short of talking points as they meandered back along the M8. Instead of filing this alongside all of those other losses at an inhospitable venue, or dismissing it as merely an echo of the 4-0 defeat at Ibrox back in October, let’s consider the impact of this 4-1 loss on what happens next.

Here are the major talking points from last night:

Defence, defence, defence – keep repeating that until you get it right

The way Montgomery talked about the first two goals conceded against Celtic, the opener coming after just four minutes and the second blow landing not long before half-time, you could tell he hadn’t wasted time in identifying the problem. Both concessions were a result of lapses in concentration.

It’s not even a very good corner, the set-piece delivery from Luis Palma that led to Celtic going 1-0 up. But you can’t just run alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers and hope he doesn’t make first contact with the ball; letting any cross drop in the six-yard box is an elementary error.

If that was a goal to grind the gears of any coach who ever delivered a session on defending corners, the second doesn’t get any better on repeated viewing. Unless you take satisfaction from watching left back Lewis Stevenson, the most mild-mannered man in Scottish football, berate his central defenders for their marking.

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Matt O'Riley gets above Rocky Bushiri to make it 2-0 to Celtic.Matt O'Riley gets above Rocky Bushiri to make it 2-0 to Celtic.
Matt O'Riley gets above Rocky Bushiri to make it 2-0 to Celtic. | SNS Group

As Monty pointed out, it’s a decent cross from the left. But it’s a two-v-two in the middle of the penalty box. Just stick tight to your man. Easier said than done – but still a pretty basic tenet of defending.

Dylan Vente is invaluable

The Dutch striker didn’t make the starting line-up because he was carrying a knock picked up in the weekend win over Aberdeen. Once the game was gone, there was little point in throwing him on as a substitute – potentially aggravating the issue ahead of a trip to Livingston’s lovely plastic pitch on Saturday – in a search for better balance up top.

Both Martin Boyle and Elie Youan put in decent shifts as an unorthodox strike partnership, with the latter creating a couple of half chances – and one clear-cut opportunity – for himself with his pace and movement. Credit is also due to Christian Doidge for climbing off the bench go get a consolation goal.

Youan battles with Celtic's Tomoki Iwata as counter-attack flounders.Youan battles with Celtic's Tomoki Iwata as counter-attack flounders.
Youan battles with Celtic's Tomoki Iwata as counter-attack flounders. | SNS Group

But neither Boyle nor Youan are experts at holding the ball in and waiting for support, a key asset even in a team built for lightning-quick counterattacks; at some point, you have to keep possession. Nor do they possess the instincts that makes Vente’s running such a feature of Hibs’ ability to hurt opponents.

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If he’s fit enough to face trial by artificial turf at Livi, Vente will surely start. And, having broken his ten-game goal drought against Aberdeen on Sunday, will probably score.

 The plan is still worth pursuing

Yeah, David Marshall was hurried into playing the ball straight into touch. Once. Anyone with access to his pass completion stats, however, could verify the assertion that the goalkeeper has adapted well to Montgomery’s instructions about playing out from the back.

Rocky Bushiri’s mazy runs from deep may be a novel element to a game plan designed to draw opponents onto Hibs. But there were enough encouraging passages of play, even in a heavy defeat, to suggest that building through Joe Newell or Dylan Levitt dropping deep to switch play remains a viable tactic.

You can’t cover every Celtic threat

Few Celtic fans would consider this year’s team to be a classic. There are, indeed, deep grumblings among the support about backwards steps and sub-standard squad players.

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Even on a night when they could keep Kyogo Furuhashi in reserve for much of the game, however, the quality available to Brendan Rodgers was pretty evident. And it must be a nightmare for Scottish Premiership coaches to confront.

OK, let’s double team that guy. And make sure this player is never left one-on-one. That would be madness. Oh yeah, we need single cover in there. Hang on, that would give us 15 players on the pitch. Do you think the ref would notice?

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