There might have been a few worried faces among the Celtic contingent at Easter Road on Wednesday and probably at that point they had some reason to be concerned.
Celtic were one-down, the defence had looked not only uncertain but very square and just before the interval, Hibs had missed a great chance to go two-up. Then, at half-time, as one manager tore into his team for their lack of endeavour and carelessness, did the other, in this case Colin Calderwood, tell his men to lie a little deeper to absorb some of the pressure which Celtic would undoubtedly apply in the second half? If that was the case – and it certainly did look as though they were more defensive than in the opening half – then it played right into Celtic’s hands. The Hoops took control, quickly got the goals which put them in front, then dictated play for the rest of the match.
Now, both sides have to go it all again on Saturday, this time at Celtic Park, and it would be a brave – or possibly foolish – punter who would put a bet on Hibs to take any points from the clash. I hate to blow my own trumpet did I did say in my preview that there was a gulf in quality between the sides and my words proved prophetic in the second half in Edinburgh. The Celtic players will run out on the pitch tomorrow with the warnings of manager and staff ringing in their ears, ‘continue where you left off and do not let Hibs back into it!’ I have seldom predicted a Celtic win with more confidence.
There was another aspect to the match that I noticed, one which has always puzzled me. I have usually found that managers noted in their playing days for their ‘robustness’ of technique in the centre-back role rather than for their silky touch – think of ex-Celts John Hughes and Tony Mowbray, or indeed Colin Calderwood – are obsessed with their sides playing attractive football at the expense of making sure that their defence is watertight. Most league-winning sides are strong at the back; we only have to look across the city to see that. There are a few exceptions. Barcelona never look particularly strong in that area but they keep – and dominate possession – so well that their rear is seldom under real pressure. At Easter Road, once Celtic got going, the Hibs rearguard was all at sea, with the usual results.
In Scotland, the goals against tally for the league winners is usually on the low side. However, way back in the 1950s, there were occasions when that was not the case;
Year Winner Games Goals For Goals against
1950-51 Hibs 30 78 26
1951-52 Hibs 30 92 36
1952-53 Rangers 30 80 39
1953-54 Celtic 30 72 29
1954-55 Aberdeen 30 73 26
1955-56 Rangers 34 85 27
1956-57 Rangers 34 96 48
1957-58 Hearts 34 132 29
1958-59 Rangers 34 92 51
1959-60 Hearts 34 102 51