Hibs reaction: Easter Road club left with feeling of frustration after Celtic defeat
A few days previously while he was still “between jobs”, Neil Lennon claimed he wouldn’t be surprised if Hibs caused something of an upset by beating Celtic in this Scottish Cup quarter-final.
His reasoning was sound. Brendan Rodgers had brought his side to Easter Road three times in the past 18 months and yet the best his all-conquering players could muster was a single draw.
It was a record, of course, very much engineered by Lennon as the then head coach of the Capital side, only this time round he was celebrating victory for Celtic, a second win in Edinburgh in just four days after the whirlwind events of early last week which took him back to the east end of Glasgow.
In the end if was a comfortable win for the Premiership champions, one which keeps them on track for a third successive treble, second-half goals from James Forrest and Scott Brown giving Paul Heckingbottom his first taste of defeat as Hibs boss.
However, as much as he would have liked a first trip to Hampden, Heckingbottom’s primary goal is to turn what has been a fairly miserable league season into a decent one by holding onto the sixth place, and possibly better, those first three wins have brought.
Heckingbottom conceded there was a gulf between Hibs and “the best team in the country”, but even so, the head coach and players alike were disappointed they didn’t pose Celtic the problems they have, particularly at home, in recent times.
Hibs did compete for the first hour or so without displaying the sort of quality needed to unsettle their opponents, lacking in the final third while the supply from either flank was poor, few crosses managing to beat the first defender.
And when Forrest was given the time and space to unleash a ferocious shot which flew past Ofir Marciano, you sensed there was no way back, underlined by Brown’s strike shortly afterwards.
“I think frustrating is the word,” said Hibs skipper David Gray. “For the first half, or 60 minutes, I thought we were good in the game. We were very compact and difficult to break down.
“We just needed to make some better decisions or have better quality in the final third. If we had that, we could have created a few more chances ourselves.
“Once you go a goal down to a team like Celtic, they make it difficult for you. They keep the ball really well. We started to press and maybe lost our shape a little bit, chasing to get that goal back. That left us a bit exposed.”
Gray admitted Forrest shouldn’t have got his shot away and conceded it was the turning point in the game. He said: “It was a good strike from Forrest from outside the box. From our point of view, we feel we should stop the shot.
“Up until that point, I thought we were very good in the game, very comfortable. Like I say, we needed to be a bit braver on the ball and a bit better with our decision-making and we might have got something out of the game.
“The manager was disappointed. Our short-term objective was to get into the top six and the next round of the cup. That was the objective set when the manager came in.
“We have managed to get into the top six but unfortunately we didn’t make it in the cup.
“We knew it was always going to be a difficult game but we came into it with confidence that we could get through to the next round.”
Hibs’ attention now switches solely onto league business, those wins over Hamilton, Dundee and St Johnstone taking them three points clear of the Saints in sixth place with the same margin separating them from Capital rivals Hearts, something which has largely gone unnoticed.
Only five games remain before the split which will decide which half of the table clubs will play out the season and despite this setback, Gray insisted he and his team-mates had shown plenty of promise in the early days of Heckingbottom’s tenure having seemingly halted the slide which had left them well off the pace.
He said: “We are disappointed not to be in the next round of the cup but the attention now turns to finishing as high as we can in the league.
“The manager is disappointed but he is going to take the positives. I thought we were good for large spells of the game – and we have had three wins out of three in the league campaign so far.
“We now have just shy of a week to prepare for Rangers. He can get us on the training pitch and really work with us because the games have came thick and fast since he came in.
“I think he would like to get a bit more information into us than he has done so far.”