CELTIC 1 HIBS 1
WE are only 11 days into 2021 and it is already turning into the year from hell for Celtic.
It looked as though courage and class were going to be rewarded when David Turnbull arced in a free-kick in the 81st minute for what looked like the winner against a gutsy Hibs team at Parkhead tonight.
However, in stoppage-time, Kevin Nisbet thumped in the equaliser to leave the champions with a measly point from a possible six after two games in the new year.
After all the Covid-19 controversy engulfing the occasion and 13 players and manager Neil Lennon and his No.2 John Kennedy having to self-isolate, it wasn’t any sort of surprise that the visitors should snatch a draw late on.
Celtic brought a stop-start first-half to a conclusion with a flurry of activity that threatened to bring the breakthrough goal. Twice they were denied by high-flying saves from Matt Macey, on loan from Arsenal, while Callum McGregor had a wretched miss practically on the whistle.
In the 43rd minute, the busy Mikey Johnston knocked a pass in front of Ismaila Soro who took a touch to set up a long-range effort and the Ivorian let fly from 25 yards.
The ball was dipping in at the keeper’s top left-hand corner of the net until he stretched his 6ft 7in frame to get a hand to the attempt and send it hurtling over the bar.
A mere 60 seconds later, Diego Laxalt got on the end of a crossfield pass from Turnbull to flash in a 20-yard left-footer, but again Macey proved equal to the threat with a dive to his right to punch the ball to safety.
THE THINKER…David Turnbull plans his next move against Hibs.
Turnbull then lofted the ball over the heads of the Hibs back lot into the path of McGregor, but he sliced the ball wildly off target from eight yards. He should have done so much better.
It was stirring stuff from the makeshift Hoops who had started under the cosh with Conor Hazard making good stops from Joe Newell and Kevin Nisbet as the Edinburgh men forced four corner-kicks in the opening eight minutes.
Gavin Strachan was in the dug-out with Lennon elsewhere and he tried to urge on the team to find a bit of cohesion and rhythm. However, far too often passes were going astray and very little was seen of Jeremie Frimpong as an attacking presence on the right.
Teenage American forward Cameron Harper was pressed into service for an unlikely debut, but with no Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths, Albian Ajeti and Patryk Klimala, the champions weren’t exactly spoiled for choice to lead the attack.
The youngster must have seen his name in lights in the 25th minute when Johnston set him up with a cute pass, but the Californian wasted the opportunity by blasting into the sidenet from an angle. With a little more composure, he would have almost certainly scored his first goal for the club.
FREEWAY TO SUCCESS…David Turnbull (right) watches his free-kick fly high past Hibs keeper Matt Macey.
JOY BHOY…David Turnbull celebrates his stunning strike.
Harper was wayward with two other chances when he should have done so much better, but his final pass on both occasions was wasteful.
Hibs were dangerous and saw a chance to pile the misery on their hosts, but Shane Duffy was putting a power of work, mainly in the air, in the rearguard while supported by Stephen Welsh.
On the hour mark, Armstrong Oko-Flex was introduced for his debut as Harper came off, looking to be suffering from slight cramp.
A couple of minutes later, Hazard was swift to come off his line to block a close-range shot from Melker Halllberg after a Newell pass had split the Hoops defence.
Things were continually breaking down at Tom Rogic and it was no surprise when the Aussie was withdrawn in the 67th minute with Ewan Henderson taking his place.
Johnston screamed for a penalty after nutmegging Ryan Porteous before going to ground, but referee Steven McLean wasn’t impressed and waved away the appeal. As they say, we’ve seen them given.
HAPPY SORO…midfielder Ismaila Soro displays his joy after David Turnbull’s goal.
In the 79th minute, it was Karamoko Dembele’s turn to enter the fray as he came on for a clearly tiring Johnston who was starting his first game since January 25 last year.
Two minutes later, Turnbull netted a spectacular free-kick from the D on the edge of the box. He was brought down by Stephen McGinn and the award was immediately given. The midfielder dusted himself down, took aim and fired an unstoppable drive high past Macey.
On another day, it would be good enough to be a winner. Not this day, though.
DISASTER…the Celtic defence is all over the place as Kebin Nisbet nets the stoppage-time leveller.
In stoppage time, Laxalt gifted Hibs a free-kick with a silly foul on Paul McGinn in a dangerous position on the right. Stevie Mallan flighted the ball to the back post, it was knocked back across goal where Hazard flapped while under pressure and the ball eventually dropped to Nisbet via Duffy and the hitman hammered it in from close range.
Just like Ibrox, nine days earlier, Celtic had been undone by a set-play from the right.
And Nisbet’s drive brought the curtain down on a thoroughly miserable 24 hours for the Hoops.
TEAM: Hazard; Frimpong, Welsh, Duffy, Laxalt; Turnbull, Soro, Rogic (sub: Henderson 67), McGregor; Harper (sub: Oko-Flex 60), Johnston (sub: Dembele 79).