After six years in the making, Brendan Rodgers’ first taste of victory at Easter Road came not a moment too soon. The way he arrived last night was truly extraordinary.
When the 90th minute arrived in Leith, it looked like Celtic would once again have to pay the cost for their lack of cutting edge in front of goal.
Ahead thanks to an early Adam Idah penalty, the champions saw a lot of the ball but lacked guile when it really mattered.
Hibs, second best in a flat first half, did what many other teams have done recently against Celtic. They improved their game and took advantage of the mental fragility that is evident in Rodgers’ players right now.
Dylan Levitt’s wonderful shot was on the post from the moment the visitors passed up a series of chances to end the matter.
Adam Idah scored two penalties in his first Celtic start to secure victory on Wednesday night.
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If anything, Nick Montgomery’s team looked the most likely to win it in a frantic final period.
But a final dramatic turn at the moment of death ensured Celtic dispelled the gathering storm clouds.
Kyogo Furuhashi had jumped into action in desperation. His dribble into the penalty area led to contact from Joe Newell which was not immediately apparent to referee Nick Walsh.
Alerted to the incident by VAR Andrew Dallas, a penalty was belatedly awarded. Idah repeated the trick from 12 yards. The sense of relief on the visiting team was palpable.
The weekend slip in Pittodrie was not followed by a resounding fall in Leith. At the fifth question, Rodgers left this part of the world with the three points he came looking for.
This was painful for Hibs. They started badly but managed to fight their way through the competition and looked good to earn a point until Newell’s lazy leg cost them. A winless league now dates back to December 9 against Livingston.
Fresh from Japan’s Asian Cup adventure, Daizen Maeda was immediately sent back. Curiously, despite not having been called up for his country, Furuhashi was benched and Idah got the first start for him.
Nicolas Kuhn, Celtic’s other January signing, also started after an impressive scoring debut at Aberdeen.
The Celtic striker scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in added time following a VAR review.
With Australia exiting the tournament in Qatar a day early, it was no surprise when Nick Montgomery reintroduced Lewis Miller and Martin Boyle to his side.
If Celtic felt in any way burdened by the criticism that had flown since the weekend, then they didn’t show it from the start.
Dominating the ball from the first whistle, they locked down Hibernian, moving it from side to side, passing, probing and asking questions.
When the home team failed to finish off a free kick inside their area, panic set in. Too eager to deal with the situation after Newell headed the ball into the night sky, Nectarios Triantis completely lost his cool. Second favorite for the high ball, his head hit Alistair Johnston’s after the Canadian kept things alive.
After establishing that no advantage could be gained, Walsh awarded a penalty.
For Idah, the six-minute wait to spot the ball must have seemed like an eternity. That’s how long it took for Johnston to be stretchered off with Anthony Ralston added. It is commendable that the Irishman calmly sent David Marshall the wrong way from 12 yards.
As the visitors celebrated, Triantis, who had also conceded a penalty against St Mirren on Saturday, must have briefly wished he were back in Sunderland.
Celtic seemed to be in the mood to finish the job early. Liam Scales’ incisive pass to Paulo Bernardo allowed the Portuguese to steady himself and take aim, but he was unable to hit the target from 20 yards.
Idah sent Hibs goalkeeper David Marshall the wrong way from the spot in the 10th minute.
Bernardo seemed to have turned provider when he played a clever ball around Triantis which Idah found. Marshall did enough this time.
Despite being a goal down, Hibs were content to sit back and bide their time. There were very few of them.
Jordan Obita looked the most likely source as he left his post and jumped down the left. He managed to get forward enough to deliver a cross that swung into the Celtic penalty area. Elie Youan shot wide. Scales got the vital touch to ensure the blow did not bring Joe Hart into action.
There was much to admire about the way Celtic kept the ball and were patient. However, once again, golden opportunities proved difficult to come by.
Bernardo almost found the second when he found a pocket of pace in the box. His attempt to defeat Marshall was very ambitious.
The half-time whistle found Celtic in familiar territory. Although they were clearly the better team, they still had a lot of work to do to get the three points.
The pattern continued after the change. Scales failed to get enough grip on a header and Marshall watched as the ball deflected harmlessly.
Idah hit the crossbar after Maeda fired in a cross, although the offside flag was up anyway.
Dylan Levitt equalizes for Hibs on the hour with a sensational goal at Easter Road
Alexandro Bernabei had no critics to look to after his performance at Pittodrie, but he contributed more here. Rodgers was grateful for the Argentine’s alertness to prevent Boyle from connecting with Newell’s deep cross.
Idah’s run without the ball was impressive. When Bernardo played him with a slide rule pass, he must have seen the morning’s headlines in his mind. But Marshall came to the rescue again.
Fans housed on the away side probably had an idea of what was coming next.
Receiving Newell’s free kick, Will Fish spotted Levitt lurking on the edge of the box. The Welshman’s right hand from 20 meters was absolutely perfect. Hart could only see him appear in the bottom corner.
Now it was anyone’s game. Substitute Myziane Maolida almost put Hibs in front with a overhead kick after Scales’ error.
Boyle was booked for making the most of Bernabei’s challenge and then saw Hart deflect his shot.
Why Celtic didn’t immediately make the winger pay at the other end was truly astonishing.
Idah seemed to have all the time in the world to take advantage of a simple opportunity from seven meters, but he hesitated. Fresh off the bench, Furuhashi also needed age to convert the next chance and Newell took the ball off his toe. He summarized the recent travails of the Japanese.
With play swinging from one extreme to the other, Lewis Miller slid in to meet Newell’s cross, but the full-back fired just short of the far post.
The Welsh midfielder showed excellent technique to guide his shot into the bottom corner.
Fish could have won it for the home team, but his shot went wide. Marshall was equal to Furuhashi’s blow on the other end.
But we hadn’t seen the last of the drama. Not at all. With the 90 minutes almost up, Furuhashi made his way into the area but found his progress halted.
At first there seemed to be nothing wrong, but VAR quickly urged Walsh to go to the pitch-side monitor, where Newell’s challenge on the striker was rightly ruled a foul.
What pressure Idah had on her shoulders. But he calmly scored again from the penalty spot to ensure Celtic took the precious three points.