HIBS 1 CELTIC 2
A DOUBLE penalty-kick salvo from new Bhoy Adam Idah got Celtic over the line in an evening of high anxiety at Easter Road.
It looked as though the champions were on the brink of carelessly throwing away two more precious Premiership points as they did against Aberdeen at Pittodrie at the weekend.
The on-loan Norwich City frontman had walloped the Hoops into the first-half lead before Hibs were invited back into the contest following some alarmingly sloppy play from Brendan Rodgers’ team.
Dylan Levitt equalised with a devastatingly accurate strike from the edge of the box after the Hoops defence had failed to deal with a routine free-kick into the box.
It was knocked down for the midfielder who thundered a left-foot drive low past the helpless Joe Hart.
SPOT ON No.1…Adam Idah slots away the opening penalty-kick to give Celtic the first-half lead.
SPOT ON No.2…Adam Idah repeats the feat with the stoppage-time winner.
And that’s the way it stood until substitute Kyogo Furuhashi was downed in the box by a desperate challenge from Joe Newell in the second minute of stoppage-time.
VAR reviewed the incident and instructed match official Welsh to have another look on his touchline monitor.
The whistler deliberated before returning to the field and pointing once again to the spot. Once more, Idah, displaying nerves of steel, elected to accept the responsibility.
The powerhouse hitman kept his composure as he rammed the ball wide of the desperately diving David Marshall.
There were still four tension-laden minutes to play and the game ended when Hart made a fine save as Hibs threw everything into getting an equaliser.
This was Rodgers’ first win in five attempts at Easter Road and it was most welcome.
It restores the champions’ three-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle and now the focus will turn to the Scottish Cup and the visit to Paisley to take on St Mirren on Sunday.
It was all about points on this occasion and, thankfully, it looks as though the team have found a player who can actually score from the spot after misses this season from Reo Hatate, David Turnbull and Luis Palma.
Worryingly, the Hoops only had one goal to show for the bulk of possession in the first-half.
Other than the spot-kick, Marshall was unduly worried as the visitors toiled to put decisive passes together.
HIB HIB HOORAY…Brendan Rodgers celebrates his first victory at Easter Road.
The ball was given away with frustrating regularity with Stephen Welsh and Liam Scales often tasked with delivering forward passes to penetrate the hosts’ high backline. Alas, their accuracy and range didn’t offer too may problems as passes went astray.
Nicolas Kuhn rarely figured as a threat on the right while Daizen Maeda, as ever, was busy on the left without making a telling contribution in the opening extended period after Alistair Johnston’s head knock at the penalty-kick award held up the game for five minutes.
The Canadian right-back was taken out of play by a wayward lunge from defender Nectarius Triantis that floored the Celt.
Referee Nick Welsh unhesitatingly pointed to the spot and there was the lengthy delay as onfield medical treatment was administered to the stricken Johnston before he was stretchered off.
Anthony Ralston was given the nod to move into the No.2 slot.
Idah waited patiently to take the award before he stepped up to neatly sweep the ball in at Marshall’s left-hand corner of the net while the ex-Hoops netminder took off in the opposite direction.
Matt O’Riley was the only visting player supplying imagination in his range of passing and even skipper Callum McGregor appeared to be suffering from the malaise.
In fact, the inspirational midfielder created alarm in the Celtic defence in the 41st minute with a sloppy ball forward that could have cost the team dear, but Hibs failed to take advantage.
CAPITAL PERFORMANCE…Adam Idah celebrates his penalty-kick winner against Hibs in Edinburgh.
There was also a scare in the 25th minute when Jordan Obitas was given time and space on the left to whip in an inviting cross.
The ball dropped to Elie Youan and hearts were in collective Celtic mouths as the forward drew back his foot to fire in a shot.
Bravely, Scales threw himself as the effort and diverted it to safety.
Seven minutes after the interval, Bernardo and O’Riley combined to set Maeda free on the left. The winger picked out the rampaging Idah who walloped the ball first-time off the crossbar from eight yards, but the linesman flagged for offside in any case.
Hibs levelled on the hour mark when Welsh nedlessly gave away a free-kick that eventually saw Levitt drill a sweet left-foot effort wide of the despairing Hart at his left-hand post.
Two minutes later, the veteran keeper made another vital stop from Myriane Maeolida as Nick Montgomery’s side thought they could get something from the confrontation with their opponents enduring a shaky period.
Rodgers sent on Maik Nawrocki and Liel Abada for Welsh and Kuhn in the 66th minute and shortly afterwards introduced Kyogo and Palma for Bernardo and Maeda.
In the 80th minute, there was a scare for the champions when a diagonal pass from Newell swept all the way to the backpost to find Lewis Miller, but the defender’s shot squeezed past the opposite upright with the exposed Hart stranded.
Then came the final drama with Kyogo flattened just inside the box. VAR images showed clearly that the Japanese striker was taken out of play and the award was justified.
Thankfully, Idah kept cool while under extreme pressure to lash the points-clincher past Marshall.
The sigh of relief from the visiting fans almost lifted the roof off the main stand.
It had been one of those night in the capital.
TEAM: Hart; Johnston (sub: Ralston 10), Welsh (sub: Nawrocki 66), Scales, Bernabei; Bernardo (sub: Kyogo 71), McGregor, O’Riley; Kuhn (sub: Abada 66), Idah, Maeda (sub: Palma 71).