Celtic visited Easter Road with some new additions to the ever-growing injury list, as Mulgrew and Forrest both picked up knocks midweek against Dundee to join Commons, Ledley and Matthews on the sidelines. Even without injuries to key players, beating Pat Fenlon’s revived Hibs side looked a difficult task despite their recent poor domestic form. Leigh Griffiths was always going to be the obvious threat to Lennon’s men and his early goal proved to be decisive in what was a well-organized display from the Edinburgh side.
Lennon initially set his team up with a back three, as he has done so often in recent weeks. With a whole host of midfielders injured, it was a bit of a surprise that Beram Kayal started on the bench rather than joining Wanyama and Brown in the middle. Izaguirre and Lustig started as the wide men, and with Lassad, Hooper, and Samaras all in the starting eleven, the team looked a tad unbalanced to begin with:
There was little surprise that Hibs set up in a 4-5-1, with Griffiths the highest man on the pitch. The leading SPL goalscorer had no problem on his own up front, as he harassed the back three (Rogne in particular) throughout the entire match.
Hibs Goal and Celtic Formation Change
Celtic started the match very poorly, as Hibs looked the more likely of the two to grab a goal. Neither team was able to hold much possession in the opening moments, but the Edinburgh side were the only one building any meaningful attacks. Griffiths started the match superbly, and was rewarded with his first goal in seven games when he nipped in between Rogne and Forster to grab a bouncing ball and rounded the Celtic stopper to put Hibs 1-0 up.
After the goal Celtic still struggled to keep hold of the ball, as poor touches and blatant lack of focus caused several stray passes and loss of possession. They had two meaningful chances that both hit the left upright of Ben William’s goal, however, they were both ruled offside. Sensing a need to rearrange things, Lennon moved Ambrose into midfield as Samaras drifted into his more familiar role on the left side. Lustig and Izaguirre played a little deeper in what looked more like a 4-4-2 shape:
Celtic still lacked any natural width on the right, as Brown stayed tucked inside, and Lustig’s attacking freedom was restricted following this change of shape. As a result, Samaras became the prominent outlet going forward, as Hooper and Lassad were essentially too crowded by Hibs defenders to have the ball played into their feet.
Samaras and Ambrose
Both Georgios Samaras and Efe Ambrose have been absolutely massive for Celtic so far this season. Samaras is in the form of his life and Ambrose looks right at home at his new club, having fit in instantly. However, both have a style of play that is unique to themselves, and in this game, it ended up hurting Celtic’s attacking options rather than boosting them.
Samaras, who is an excellent ball runner, found himself crowded by Hibs defenders and midfielders within instants of him getting the ball. Clearly Fenlon had pinpointed Samaras as a danger man, and his side did an excellent job of making sure he had no one to pass to, and that he always ended up dribbling into a group of Hibernian players.
Accordingly, Ambrose likes to keep hold of the ball, and use his touches to go past players. While this did bring a sense of urgency to Celtic’s play when he moved into midfield, it didn’t help to create much, and on a few occasions, it allowed Hibs to counter attack after winning the ball off him. Kayal is much more suited to this role, as Ambrose’s strongest position continues to be in central defense.
Second Half and Substitutions
Despite gradual improvement throughout the first half, many Celtic fans would have been begging for a substitution at half. However the team remained unchanged; a testament to Lennon’s belief and faith in his starting eleven. It was also an effort to give Kayal in particular a break, which was likely Lennon’s reason for not starting him in the first place.
Nevertheless, the second half started a little more brightly as Celtic looked to be getting hold of possession more frequently, however the stray passes and touches still persisted, if in a less frequent manner. Hibs defended with two banks of four in what became a 4-1-4-1. Hibs didn’t truly park the bus, but when Celtic were pressing and in possession, they defended very deep and stayed compact, not allowing any room inside the box. While Celtic began to settle, they still had few clear-cut chances.
Beram Kayal replaced Rogne in the 70th minute; a substitution that was a little overdue from Lennon, given his sides inability to penetrate the Hibernian defense and dominate the midfield. The change had an immediate impact in conjunction with the change made two minutes earlier when Paddy McCourt replaced Lassad. Samaras pushed to a more central forward role as McCourt switched from wing to wing and Celtic dominated possession for the remaining twenty minutes.
Hooper nearly netted in the closing minutes in what was Celtic’s most fluid attacking move of the game, but it was smartly swatted away by Williams.
It was a deserved victory from Pat Fenlon’s side, however Neil Lennon can take little reassurance from the display. The Celtic manager took the blame after the game for the initial setup of the side, but defended his team’s performance. The fact remains that Celtic simply didn’t create enough chances to warrant a win.
In terms of personnel, Thomas Rogne was suspect in the center of defense, particularly in the first half, as he continues to see little action as a starter. With Lennon looking for another center half in the January transfer window, Rogne’s playing time may be coming to a complete close. It was apparent that he was lacking match fitness and he appeared unaware for the majority of the match. Wilson and Wanyama both had decent games, but the overall individual performances on this day were simply not up to recent standard.
While many may criticize Lennon for the way he set his team up, a midst all the recent Champions League glory, we cannot forget that he is still a baby in terms of managerial experience and age. This was another learning curve for him and a young Celtic side. Having said that, it is now crucial that Celtic go and get a victory against Motherwell in midweek to hopefully put a little more daylight between themselves and the rest of the SPL teams, before enjoying a well deserved holiday in Spain.
Man of the Match: Leigh Griffiths