Fenlon's Hibs show true grit
Published 31/12/2012 | 05:00
Two players, one philosophy. Each missed a gift chance in front of the same goal, but one finished a winner, the other on the losing side.
Them's the breaks, as they say. Or as Efe Ambrose said – and Eoin Doyle concurred – this is football.
Celtic will go into the new year relatively unperturbed by their defeat by Hibs at Easter Road.
Neil Lennon and his players were not at their best but, if the fixture was re-run 10 times, they would likely come out with seven or eight wins. As it is, the Scottish champions start 2013 with a six-point lead and a game in hand over their nearest rivals, Caley Thistle and Motherwell.
Hibs, meanwhile, defied expectations. The law of averages dictated that the chance of a home win over Celtic rose with every encounter in Leith since John Rankin dispatched a swerving shot from 45 yards – he called it a "squiggler" – past Artur Boruc on December 7, 2008.
However, nothing in Hibs' form prior to the encounter suggested that they would prevail on this occasion. One win and one draw from seven league outings was thin gruel, but this time Pat Fenlon's men psyched themselves into a state of mind for a victory that restored their spirits ahead of Thursday night's visit to Tynecastle for the capital's festive derby against Hearts.
They edged their success thanks to Leigh Griffiths' 14th SPL goal of the season when the forward, on loan from Wolves – and who might be recalled next month – once again emphasised his importance to Hibs' fortunes.
Eight minutes into the proceedings, he reacted quickest than Thomas Rogne to a long clearance from Paul Hanlon and skipped past Fraser Forster to strike an unfavourably angled shot past the stranded 'keeper.
Within four minutes Doyle had the opportunity to make it 2-0 when he rose unchallenged to meet a Griffiths free-kick, but he got the connection wrong and the ball bounced into the arms of a grateful Forster.
"It did cross my mind after my missed header that it might be costly," said the Dubliner. "It hit my face, rolled down onto my chest and then into his hands. I'm confident if I get the same chance again I'll make sure I can put it in the net."
Doyle had other opportunities, most notably just before half-time when he charged down an attempted clearance by Rogne but sent his finish too high.
"The result is the main thing and I'd be more disappointed if I wasn't getting the chances," said the striker. "I could have scored two or three. If I wasn't getting chances I'd be a worried man, but the fact we held on to the result is a big positive."
The poor run of results prior to this game made some Hibees anxious that their team has yet to shed the marshmallow core which has proved costly in recent seasons, but their victory over Celtic, coupled with the dismissal of Hearts from the Scottish Cup earlier in the month, suggests that Fenlon has implanted a degree of resolve for contests that test character.
Hibs spent much of the game driven back on their own lines but flung arms, legs and heads into the path of everything Celtic hurled at them, especially in the second half.
On the single occasion when they could have done nothing about the outcome, they were saved when – to the manifest astonishment of both sets of fans and the players closest to the incident – Ambrose kneed the ball over the crossbar from no more than a yard out.
"Yeah, I should have scored from that distance but, when the ball comes to you that fast, you don't see it until it hits you," said the Nigeria defender. (© Daily Telegraph, London)