Hibs verdict: Time for a fresh start as Hibees rue missed chances and refereeing decisions at Hampden

In the end, perhaps the most crucial aspect of Hibs’ latest Hampden heartache was that it was a much better display than the insipid, limp showing that precluded their meek defeat in last season’s Scottish Cup final.

By Patrick McPartlin
Sunday, 19th December 2021, 8:31 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th December 2021, 9:00 pm
More dejection for Hibs at the national stadium - but signs were there that the team is on the up
More dejection for Hibs at the national stadium - but signs were there that the team is on the up

Hibs scored for a start on this occasion, Paul Hanlon heading them in front shortly after the interval, and there were other chances – Kevin Nisbet hitting the post with a header and draing a good save out of Joe Hart, and Joe Newell seeing a late shot pushed away by the former England internationalist.

Hanlon will no doubt be agonising over the chance he put over the bar after Nisbet’s effort, too.

But as is so often the case with Hibs, they were the architects of their own downfall. In the hazy aftermath of Hanlon’s headed opener it looked all too easy for Callum McGregor and Kyogo Furuhashi to carve open the defence, allowing the latter to beat Matt Macey at his near post for an immediate response. As a rueful David Gray said afterwards, if Hibs had held on to their lead for a little bit longer, it could all have been so very different.

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Paul Hanlon scores to make it 1-0

Much has been said about the circumstances surrounding the winner but no defender covered themselves in glory regardless. It was an unusual situation, with Hibs expecting a change to be made and being caught out, but that doesn’t excuse a collective switch-off.

To chastise Hibs for one or two lapses in defence would be doing them a disservice overall, however. Newell caught the eye in midfield and Hanlon, who hasn’t been without his detractors this term, had one of his better games.

It was a surprisingly cagey opening 45, with neither team really testing the opposition goalkeeper.

Not that there weren’t half-chances. Balls were spun hopefully to the back post, evading onrushing attackers and drifting harmlessly out of play.

Paul Hanlon makes it 1-0

On the left flank Jamie Murphy twisted and turned, trying his best to fashion a chance for Nisbet that didn’t materialise.

As halves of football go the opening period was short on drama, chances, and quality. Martin Boyle, so influential on Hibs’ last visit to the national stadium, was kept quiet out wide and when he drifted more centrally.

Kyogo had drawn the ire of the Hibs supporters with a couple of theatrical tumbles, eliciting jeers whenever he touched the ball. It had been touch and go whether the Japanese forward would even play in the game. In the end, it was two moments of magic from the same player that spoiled Hibs’ hopes of another historic day at Hampden and gave the Celtic fans a new hero to adore.

Despite the flat nature of the first half there was a feeling that the game was yet to spark into life and five minutes after the break, it did. Boyle swung in a corner from the far side and Hanlon leapt highest and bundled the ball into the net despite the best efforts of Josip Juranovic and Hart.

Paul Hanlon beats Joe Hart to make it 1-0 Hibs

The Hibs fans behind the goal erupted, smoke bombs creating a fug over the pitch, and out of the wispy smoke emerged McGregor and Kyogo, the captain picking out the forward who fired a low shot past Macey to level the score. A mere fourteen seconds had elapsed between Celtic’s centre, and the goal. There had barely been time to draw breath.

The same player nearly doubled Celtic’s tally moments later but was denied by Macey. The Hibs’ ‘keeper then foiled an attempt from Tom Rogic before Carl Starfelt headed just wide. Ange Postecoglou’s side had woken up, and smelled blood.

It seemed like a matter of time before the Hoops got another and they duly did with just under 20 minutes remaining under somewhat controversial circumstances. A free kick was taken quickly and a sumptuous through-ball from Rogic set Kyogo clear and he lofted the ball over the out-of-position Macey with the Hibs defence nowhere to be seen as they waited for a change in personnel that didn’t happen.

Paul Hanlon celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 Hibs

As Kyogo wheeled away and the Celtic fans sensed that the silverware might be theirs, Paul McGinn confronted referee John Beaton, earning a booking for his troubles as he complained about the nature of the goal to no avail.

Previous Hibs teams might have crumbled at the loss of a second goal and in such a fashion but credit to the current group, who kept going until the end.

Gray changed things up, bringing on Scott Allan for Josh Campbell in the hope there might be a Christmas cracker from the playmaker. With fewer than ten minutes remaining the interim boss threw on Christian Doidge and Josh Doig as he chased a late equaliser.

If anyone knows a thing or two about late goals at Hampden in cup finals it’s the Hibs interim boss but not even he could have predicted the chaotic ending that saw his side come agonisingly close to forcing extra time.

Allan’s lofted ball into the area in added time was aimed at Hanlon, who headed the ball to Nisbet. As he did so, Carl Starfelt pushed Ryan Porteous to the ground and Nisbet’s header came back off the post with Hanlon ballooning the rebound well over.

Celtic’s Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates after scoring to make it 2-1

After that a long ball forward found Porteous on the edge of the box and he teed up Newell, whose effort was pushed away by Hart.

Beaton blew up, the Hibs players sank to their knees, and their Celtic counterparts rejoiced.

It has been a strange ten days for those of a Hibernian persuasion. A successor to Jack Ross should be appointed this week allowing the club a fresh start after a whirlwind period and maybe, just maybe, the new man can reinvigorate the team, lead them back to the upper echelons of the Scottish Premiership and take them back to Hampden in the spring.

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Cameron Carter-Vickers and Kevin Nisbet in action
Kevin Nisbet has a shot saved by Celtic's Joe Hart in the closing minutes
Paul Hanlon goes close in the final few minutes
Joe Newell has a word with referee John Beaton
Celtic Captain Callum McGregor lifts the Premier Sports Cup trophy