HIBS 2 CELTIC 2
DIEGO LAXALT was the unlikely goal hero for Celtic to save Celtic from an embarrassing and costly defeat at Easter Road this afternoon.
The Hoops were trailing 2-1 as the game drifted to a conclusion when the Uruguayan defender appeared about eight yards out to lash an unstoppable left-foot drive into the roof of the net.
The Hibs defence couldn’t clear a high ball into the danger zone and Paul Hanlon’s header dropped to the feet of the on-loan AC Milan who didn’t hesitate as he walloped an unstoppable first-time drive beyond defiant keeper Ofir Marciano.
The sigh of relief from the visiting contingent was more than obvious, but there is little doubt this will be seen as two points dropped by a sloppy Hoops side and not one earned. Celtic arrived in Edinburgh in the realisation they required a win to keep up the pressure at the top of the Premiership.
How important the two dropped points will prove to the champions will be seen at the end of the season, but their fragile defence could cost the club a historic tenth successive title.
That was highlighted again on this occasion. Two points were carelessly thrown away in a stalemate when a victory was the order of the day.
Scott Bain saved a penalty-kick, but also conceded two second-half efforts took the goals lost tally to a disastrous SEVENTEEN in nine games with only one clean sheet in that sequence.
Clearly, that is far removed from the sort of form required to have success at home or in Europe.
The first-half appeared to amble by. In the fifth minute, Ryan Christie and Albian Ajeti combined to fashion at open for the Scotland international who drove the ball low to Ofir Marciano’s left, but the Israeli No.1 got down swiftly to smother the effort.
Martin Boyle responded as the home side hit on the counter-attack, but Kristoffer Ajer made a superb blocking challenge.
A couple of minutes later, referee Bobby Madden ignored a blatant foul by Boyle on Laxalt as Hibs broke on the right, but the Hoops rearguard mopped up the danger.
In the 15th minute, Stevie Mallan wasn’t so fortunate after an obvious foul sent Jeremie Frimpong flying and the match official produced a yellow card. There was no argument from the culprit.
Ten minutes later, Alex Gogic and bodychecked Callum McGregor, but, amazingly, Madden waved play on. The midfielder cut a frustrated figure as he shouted for an infringement.
Christie displayed some mesmerising skills on the left touchline to leave Ryan Porteous in his slipstream and he picked out Mohamed Elyounoussi in the box, but his first-time effort was diverted away from danger by the alert Gogic
In the 37th minute, Scott Brown slipped in Christie who lashed the ball goalwards from 29 yards, but Marciano threw himself to his right to push the ball for a corner-kick. The Scotland international sent in the deadball effort but Elyounoussi thumped a wayward header wide from six yards smack in front of goal. He should have hit the target at the very least.
It remained goalless at the interval and it had been obvious the Hoops had struggled to make any impact on the flanks with very little seen as an attacking threat from either Frimpong on the left or Laxalt on the left.
There had been precious little presence or penetration from Ajeti through the middle and the main threat came from Christie’s probing and running from the middle of the park. The tempo needed to be increased, too, for Celtic to try to unlock a defence that was quite content to pack the centre of their danger zone.
Three minutes into the second-half, Laxalt wasted a good opportunity to sling a better ball into the box with an effort that carried wide. It was wasteful from the Uruguayan defender who was under no pressure and should have put in a better delivery.
Madden dismissed a shout for handball in the Hibs penalty area and within a minute awarded a spot-kick to Hibs when he adjudged Brown had bundled over Boyle. It was a baffling decision, but Scott Bain provided his own answer when he produced a save to foil Kevin Nisbet in the 52nd minute. The keeper did well to push the ball away as he dived to his right, but, with his defenders slow to react – mainly Bitton and Frimpong – Jamie Murphy took advantage of the slackness to fire the rebound into the corner.
In the 58th minute, Lennon made the expected change when he took off the ineffective Ajeti and sent on Odsonne Edouard.
Sixty seconds later, the champions were punished again for sloppy defending when Nisbet atoned for his spot-kick miss when he latched onto a headed pass from Murphy to leave the Hoops keeper clutching air to his left as the ball arrowed beyond him towards the far corner of the net. It smacked into the net off the inside of the upright. Bitton, once again, looked abysmally slow to react.
It was turning into another day to forget for the Parkhead men as they struggled to match the fire and fervour of their opponents. Too often this season there have been occasions when this present crop of players have not risen to this occasion and this was another of them.
Lennon had to change things pronto before the game slipped away and in the 72nd minute he threw on Shane Duffy for Brown as he went to three at the back and Leigh Griffiths also came on for Elyounoussi.
The Hoops piled forward in search of a lifeline and they earned a penalty-kick in the 79th minute when Paul McGinn handled under pressure from Edouard.
Madden had no option to point to the spot and Edouard strode forward to wallop the award high into the net to revitalise the team.
Next up was McGregor to fire one on target, but it lacked direction and Marciano held on to thwart the Celt.
In the 86th minute, Tom Rogic was presented with an opportunity, but, unfortunately, the Aussie hit the ball straight at the keeper and the chance was gone. The Aussie was withdrawn moments later with Olivier Ntcham being introduced.
Thankfully, Laxalt demonstrated more accuracy than Rogic in the fading moments to thump in the leveller.
Hopefully, it will not prove to be prophetic that Celtic wore their all-black strip this afternoon.
TEAM: Bain; Frimpong, Bitton, Ajer, Laxalt; Brown (sub: Duffy 72), Christie, Rogic (sub: Ntcham 87), McGregor; Elyounoussi (sub: Griffiths 72); Ajeti (sub: Edouard 58).