The majority of the pre-match rhetoric surrounding this game was dominated by Neil Lennon. The Hoops legend, who admitted he wouldn’t celebrate if his Hibs side ended Celtic’s unbeaten run, returned to Parkhead but he was never going to let emotions get in the way of business. And he very nearly handed the Celts their first domestic defeat in over a year.
His side were just 10 minutes away from causing an upset in Glasgow but like so many teams before them, they were undone by the Bhoys’ firepower. ‘Lenny’s’ men were well worth the 2-2 draw; they were organised and capatalised on Celtic’s sloppiness and lack of tempo. At the top end of pitch the Edinburgh outfit created the better chances, regularly testing Craig Gordon which seldom happens against the champions.
As for the Bhoys, this was a classic case of suffering from Champions League syndrome. Rodgers shuffled his pack again by making five changes in personnel with Scott Sinclair, Patrick Roberts and Griffiths not included in the XI while Brown and Stuart Armstrong were ruled out through injury. The Northern Irishman recalled Moussa Dembele, Jonny Hayes, James Forrest, Odsonne Edouard and Callum McGregor.
The 3-5-2 Rodgers utilised in the first half in order to accommodate Dembele and Edouard proved unsuccessful again just like it did at home to St.Johnstone a fortnight ago. Most of the players brought into the side didn’t impress and there was a sluggishness that so often infects teams after a tough European clash. If there was a similarity to the game against St.Johnstone, though, it was the impact of Callum McGregor.
The midfielder scored late on to salvage a draw at home to the Saints and he struck in the 80th minute to deny the Hibees three points after he opened the scoring in the first half. With Brown and Armstrong out, the 24-year-old stepped up when his side needed some inspiration which only raised more questions as to why he wasn’t originally in the Scotland squad. It’s baffling that Gordon Strachan left him out again. Looking through the squad, there’s few players who offer a goal threat from midfield like McGregor does.
There were a few players who shared connections between the clubs so it was always likely one of them would steal the limelight . Efe Ambrose and Anthony Stokes also returned to Glasgow’s east end while Leigh Griffiths made it clear he wouldn’t celebrate if he scored against his ex team. But it was Jon McGinn, the grandson of Celtic’s former Chairman, who claimed the headlines with two very well taken goals in this enthralling encounter.
McGinn was a huge threat especially in an incredible end-to-end second half that saw the visitors come back from 1-0 down to go 1-2 in front. He was liberated in the centre of the pitch in the absence of Scott Brown. Brown’s presence and aggressiveness was a huge miss for the Hoops as it allowed the opposition to get a strong grip on the game.
The skipper has been in excellent form of late but the narrative became about two other talented midfielders. For McGregor, he proved why his belated national team call-up was fully deserved.