Hibs’ Sean Mackie reflects on Celtic assist, early nerves and Neil Lennon’s advice

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Five minutes against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in a match which was already lost is one thing.

A full 45 when champions Celtic are the opposition, however, is another proposition entirely – but one which left Hibs kid Sean Mackie totally unfazed.

Sean Mackie was told to mark Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham tightly. Pic: SNS

Sean Mackie was told to mark Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham tightly. Pic: SNS

Called upon when midfielder Vykintas Slivka was deemed unfit to return for the second half after a Scott Brown tackle, the 20-year-old grabbed the opportunity and his first top-flight appearance at Easter Road with two hands.

Mackie had already fizzed one inviting ball across the face of goal, failing to pick out striker Florian Kamberi by inches and placed another just out of reach of the unmarked Emerson Hyndman when he supplied the pass for Kamberi to clinch victory and the three points which gives Lennon’s players the chance to return to the top six should they make it an Old Firm double when they face Rangers tomorrow night.

Hibs were, of course, already one to the good thanks to Slivka’s 46th-second opener, but to have had a hand in creating that opening for Kamberi simply capped an afternoon to remember for the youngster from Elphinstone.

He said: “Obviously I’ll never forget those few minutes at Pittodrie as it was my first bit of action in the first team, but a full half against Celtic in front of 18,000 at Easter Road is something else.

“Yes, we were 1-0 up, but it wasn’t as if we were cruising, so I knew I had to try to make an impact and I felt I did that.

“We knew Vicky was struggling, but we didn’t know who could come on for him if they decided at half-time he would have to come off. I was out warming up when Eddie May [head of academy coaching] shouted for me to come back into the changing room and get ready.

“The gaffer told me to relax, to try to get on the ball and not to worry if I made a mistake. There were a few nerves, but once I got out there and got my first touch of the ball it settled me down and the fact it was a good touch made it all the better.

“It was a bit weird. When you are sitting on the bench you hear the crowd but when you are playing, while you are aware of them, you just have to blank it out and focus on the game.”

Mackie’s introduction saw him take up post on the left of Hibs midfield diamond, a surprise to many who had heard he was making his mark at left-back in the club’s development squad.

But, he revealed, it was thanks to his experiences at youth level that saw him turn in such an accomplished display.

He said: “I play left-back but, recently I’ve played in a number of positions ... left-back, left wing-back, centre mid and now in a diamond, so I feel I can play anywhere on the left and in midfield.

“Celtic always have a lot of possession for the majority of the game so you have to defend. I was told to stay tight on [Celtic’s French midfielder] Olivier Ntcham, but when you have the chance to take it.

“I spotted Flo’s run and switched the ball to him. He still had a lot to do, but he came up with a great finish and for me it was good to have played a part in the goal.”

Mackie admitted the win might be regarded as some as something of a surprise given Hibs’ miserable run recently, the morale-booting victory at Hamilton tempered by a lengthy injury list which saw him, Lewis Allan and Jamie Gullan take a seat on the bench, while fellow youngsters Ryan Porteous and Oli Shaw were in the starting line-up.

He said: “Hamilton was a big win for us, but while we had more than a couple out injured the gaffer told us not to use that as an excuse, that he wanted us to get another good result.”

Slivka may have got Hibs off to a dream start but, as Lennon admitted, the worry was surviving an expected onslaught from Celtic in the following 89 minutes.

However, it never transpired with Porteous and Efe Ambrose rock-solid in central defence and Stevenson and Steven Whittaker equally impressive on either side of them, while those in front attended to their defensive duties to such an extent that goalkeeper Ofir Marciano had only one save of note to make throughout the entire 90 minutes.

Mackie said: “I thought Ryan was absolutely brilliant. He didn’t get too much wrong and it was great to see Oli play his part in the opening goal when he spotted Vicky’s run.

“We were expecting him just to hit it, but he took a touch then tucked it away. It was a fantastic goal and great start for us, but you always expect Celtic to back at you.

“They did have a fair bit of the ball but I thought we looked comfortable and were well worth the win.”

Hibs face an unrelenting schedule between now and the end of the year with Rangers, Livingston, Rangers again and Hearts to play but, agreed Mackie, the onus is now on building on these back-to-back wins over Hamilton and Celtic.

He said: “I’d imagine a lot of people might have thought Celtic would run over the top of us but we were confident of at least taking something and hopefully it will be the same tomorrow night and in the following games. It’s a tough run of matches for us, but we have to take them one at a time and see what happens.

“Ryan and Oli have been doing well, have become regulars in the side and hopefully I can also now begin to win myself more playing time.”