Celtic stuttered as their perfect start to the Scottish Premiership season came to an end against a stubborn Hibernian. In a game oozing with controversy rather than quality, it was Heckingbottom’s eleven that stood strongest with a defensive display that deserves immense credit.
Hibs, still in the midst of a slow start to the campaign, made two changes from the side that scraped past Kilmarnock in the Betfred Cup during midweek. Such is the quality afforded to Neil Lennon that he could make eight changes to the side that tore apart Partick Thistle in their corresponding cup fixture.
Celtic have failed to win in the league at Easter Road in their four previous visits to the capital – a record which former Hibs boss Lennon was largely responsible for.
Yet on his return to the Edinburgh dugout, albeit on the opposite side, Lennon’s side were left frustrated by Heckingbottom’s Hibs.
On seven minutes, and against all pre-match odds, Hibs took the lead through a mixture of free-flowing passing and fortune. A duo of reverse passes from centre-back Jackson and then the lively Scott Allan saw Doidge into space on the right-hand flank of the box. His cut back deflected off the foot of Kristoffer Ajer, leaving Fraser Forster wrong-footed and helpless in goal as it trickled in at his near post.
Few expected such a turn of events and this was far from the end of the drama in a frantic 90 minutes.
Midway into the first half, Stevie Mallan was in full flow, ready to take on the Celtic defence, before referee Kevin Clancy blew the whistle for what was supposedly a foul on James Forrest. Confusion reigned as Hibs expected a drop-ball rather than the quick free-kick that released Moritz Bauer down the right wing. The former Stoke City man found the perfect delivery, ensuring Ryan Christie couldn’t miss from eight yards. Heckingbottom later described the situation as a ‘‘shambles’’ and a ‘‘farce’’, saying that ‘‘everyone at this football club has been let down’’.
It certainly felt like that inside the stadium. The boos and whistles were enough to drown out even the noisiest of Celtic away ends as the atmosphere descended to fury.
Emotions took over as Heckingbottom joined the illustrious list of managers, including Arsene Wenger, in taking out this anger on a water bottle in the technical area. As tensions boiled following that controversial equaliser, the Yorkshireman connected brilliantly with the bottle, guiding it into the linesman. Unsurprisingly the red card followed.
Perhaps plastic pollution is not the only reason we should be looking to oust water bottles from our society.
After the game Heckingbottom also revealed he had sworn at the fourth official in the messy aftermath of the equaliser. ‘‘I shouldn’t have done that’’, he told the press.
Up to the stands he went. Whilst filling the stadium is part of their job, the powers that be at Easter Road would not have been so delighted by this addition to the crowd.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon was not without his grievances either. He felt his side should have had two penalties as Bauer caused plenty of problems overlapping down the right.
Oliver Ntcham was perhaps fortunate not to receive his marching orders when he raised his hands towards the head of Hibernian’s Josh Vela on 38 minutes.
The list of controversies could go on and on. Both managers were left aggrieved at the standards of officiating on show.
Yet no referee can seem to take away from the brilliance of Celtic captain Scott Brown. Never far from the melee, Celtic’s general thrives off winding up opposition fans. This afternoon proved no different as his personal battle with Scott Allan extended to include the 18,000 inside Easter Road. Brown picked up his almost mandatory yellow card in the 47th minute for a foul Allan.
It was a minor miracle that the game ended with 22 players. Eight bookings, including five for the visiting side, marked a game played at a high tempo with few moments to reflect and pause. Indeed, it was only ever injuries following clashes that provided a moment to draw breath.
Hibs tired as the second half went on and Celtic’s siege continued. Their extensive armoury was flexed as replacements Scott Sinclair and Vakoun Bayo took to the field in search of the winner.
But it was Celtic’s lack of composure in the final third which would ultimately cost them their 100 per cent record at the start of this season. Hayes, Bayo and McGregor all might have done better in the closing stages as the travelling Celts willed the ball into the net in front of them.
‘‘We’re not going to win every game’’, said Neil Lennon. Despite wanting all three, for Heckingbottom, a point against the champions marks a positive result and maybe, just maybe, the signs that this Hibs team is beginning to get going.
Image: Sam Bayliss