Today’s game was preambled by the predictable patronising pat on the heid from our opposition’s following. Jolly chaps, the lot of them, they smirked and smiled and sat back waiting for what they thought was going to be a run of the mill win. They sat on their hands, with the exception of their naughty corner, for the best part of 80 minutes. Waiting to be entertained, watching as we entertained and showed them how it is done both on and off the park.
We lined up with a back four of Lewy, Whitty, Paul and Efe in front of Laidlaw. Midfield saw SJM, Dylan, Slivka and Barts take the field with Boyler out wide and high and Stokesy through the middle. There was no starting place for Oor Leigh, or indeed Scott with the Bad Hair or Patrick with the cardboard face being sold outside the Vaults Bar. A sign of the patronising pat coming from within the Celtc hierarchy, as well as their support, or a sign of tired legs after their midweek jaunt to Yoorope. Either way, it looked like it mattered not during the opening exchanges with Tom Rogic bossing midfield for the entire first half and our team taking its time to work its way into the game. We started with a surging run of Super proportions from Grandson McGinn but John would probably be the first to admit that his contribution for the remainder of the first half was going to be a little sketchy. Rogic was faster, quicker to the ball and, at one point, John actually bounced off him. However, that balance was going to shift in exactly the other direction as the game was to progress into the second period, with SJM going on to dominate midfield (and the game) big time. But more of that to come…
In the opening stages, Celtc looked comfortable and, although we saw a reasonable amount of the ball, they were in the ascendancy at the start of the match. They took the lead on 16 minutes when Moussa Dembele found McGregor unmarked, thanks to Slivka having completely left his man. The Celtc player took total advantage of the Leithuanian being caught napping and slotted the ball past Laidlaw. It was a frustrating situation for us to find ourselves in because, although Celtc had been comfortable, this was maybe only the second real chance they had been offered to this point. Slivka had been at a concert in the Playhouse on Thursday night and it wouldn’t be the music still ringing in his ears come half time judging by the gaffer’s response on seeing the goal again on the big screens.
Hibs may have been thought to simply now capitulate but nothing could be further from the truth and we began to get themselves more and more into the game during the opening half. Dylan McTickTock was running the show for us in the middle, the back four were ALL at the races with Efe an absolute stand out. I can’t stress that enough. He was thinking on the same level as the opposition and anticipating pretty much everything the nippy home forward line could throw at us. It was his finest hour in a Hibs strip and the others with him in the rearguard obliged by having equally determined and driven performances. At half time we reflected that of all of those in the away strips in the first 45 mins, only maybe Slivka and Bartley had been a little out of things. Slivka had been culpable at the goal and Bartley had been allowed all the time he wanted on the ball when he was trying to go forward (clearly Rodgers felt there was nothing to worry about there) but had been off the pace of the blistering first half Rogic display.
Second half saw us get treated to a 45 minutes that our noisy, exuberant support deserved. McGinn was about to turn in a very fine 45 minutes all of his own, surely putting him into contention for a Scotland start next week. His equalising strike was a thing of absolute beauty. From the edge of the area his trusty left peg drove a low shot into the bottom corner of the net, off to Craig Gordon’s left. If anyone had doubted allegiances of certain players ahead of today’s game, then there was absolutely zero doubt as to where McGinn’s loyalties and heart lay today – his celebration with the Hibs fans in the corner was as exuberant as an exuberant thing being exuberant on the 21st May. It gave everyone hope and belief. Suddenly, with us in the ascendancy, all bets were off. The biggest library in Scotland knew it, we knew it, our players knew it. Even the back to front Polish dancing Green Brigade dafties knew it.
Hibs continued to create momentum and Roger headed narrowly over from a set piece. Not long after, he then had a remarkable effort, that looked goal bound, from point-blank range. Somehow, somehow Plug from the Bash Street Kids pushed it away…and I’m still not sure how. Still Hibs kept coming. Still it felt like a special result might be on the cards. Rattled, seriously rattled, the library audience twitched in their seats as they sat watching our support show them how its done, in between looking through their fingers at the game and with only 13 minutes left, SJM nearly had them collectively wetting themselves when he put Hibs ahead with a strike from distance that beat Gordon all ends up. Exuberance, and then some, ensued.
Now we were into the end game. Celtc had been so rattled as to bring on Sinclair, Roberts and one of our own. We were always going to have everything thrown at us and, sadly, with just nine minutes left on the scoreboard, they carved open an equaliser. From a corner there was a knock-down and McGregor bagged his brace. It was a scunner but we needed to keep cool heads and brave hearts to ensure we left the library with a point in our book to show for our efforts. Frighteningly, it looked like it might not happen when Sinclair got straight through a tiring Whitty and then squealed like a piggy at Gollum that he had been clawed back by Efe Ambrose in the box. Gollum, who had bottled sending off Tom Daly Forrest in the first half, thankfully waved away the claims for a penalty and we sighed a collective gasp of relief.
Laidlaw – a couple of very good saves, not least one with his legs in the first half. A good outing.
Lewy – bust the proverbial gut and took one for the team late in the second half when Roberts looked like he might be clean through otherwise
Whittaker – best game for him of the season. Didnt see that coming, well done, sir.
Hanlon – the archetypal Paul performance
Efe – oh my giddy aunt. What a performance, what a player today. Oh sweet Sauzee. Don’t underestimate his contribution this afternoon
Bartley – a good second half, an anonymous first as Rogic ran the show
McTickTock – if anyone handled the “playing against your old club” thing best, it was Dylan. In his element
SJM – an international class second half. Two outrageous goals, two outrageously good celebrations. We’ve got SJM and they found out the hard way
Slivka – an anonymous first half and culpable at the goal but a good second half and very influential
Boyler – his pace bothered them, his first touch didn’t. He is our out and will be vitally important at Hampden next month
Stokesie – worked hard, gave them things to think about. Happy to celebrate too
Murray and Barker – came on for tired legs and to run down the clock. Both worked hard, albeit for all of 5 minutes.
Gollum – bottled sending off Forest Gump. Thankfully didnt give a penalty at the end. Annoyed the home fans as he didnt give them everything Annoyed us for not giving us very much at all
Leigh – of all the folk involved with being on “the wrong side” he looked most bothered by it. He really didn’t want to be there. Rodgers did him a favour maybe by not starting him.
The Hibs fans – again our away support was excellent. The away games this season have been far better experiences, games and results than the home ones. From “Leigh Griffiths, he’s one of our own” through to “We hate Rangers more than you” we had the home fans more confused than a Hearts manager winning 3 points. We out-sang them and they knew it.
As big Marv says, we run this city. We seem to run another one, too. We have hope now going into our third game in the Weege, at Easter Road West. Get buying those tickets and back the boys. We can do this.
Man of the Match. I know, I know…every man and his dug will be expecting SJM and I wouldn’t argue at the divine performance he put in. Each and every one of the team contributed well today and that is really encouraging. However, Efe Ambrose looked like an international class defender for the entire 90 mins. He was awesome. Truly, freakin’ awesome.
Next up the Sheep at ER…looking forward to this lots. Let’s fleece ’em.