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Hibernian 1 Celtic 0: Fenlon's cast of colourful characters put champions in shade

SO who were these mystery men bedecked in green, white and black?

James McPake shows his delight after Hibs' victory on Saturday
James McPake shows his delight after Hibs' victory on Saturday

The joyful surprise of Hibernian supporters at watching an energetic, enterprising team was surely matched by the consternation of the Celtic fans observing yet another failure by their dark-clad heroes in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

The result, of course, is easily explained. Hibs, set up cleverly by Pat Fenlon, played with a vigour and confidence in the first half and deservedly took a lead that they never relinquished. Celtic cry out almost in unison for a creative player in this sort of match.

The champions had more of the play, dominating the second half, but Hibs had the best chances. The story for the Edinburgh side was that they defended the cross ball well, with James McPake outstanding, they competed in midfield, and Jorge Claros blunted the threat of Gary Hooper.

In Leigh Griffiths, they have a striker of undoubted ability whose excellent finish only increased the desire of the support to retain him as his contract runs down at Wolverhampton Wanders. Other eyes may be on the striker, however, and they may be attached to deeper pockets. If his partner Eoin Doyle had shown a similar facility for putting the ball in the net, Hibs could have been 3-0 up at half-time.

"It did cross my mind after my missed header that it might be costly," said Doyle of the better of the two opportunities presented to him in the first half. "It hit my face, rolled down on to my chest and then into the goalkeeper's hands."

He was upbeat about the result if he finds himself in the same position against Hearts on Thursday.

"I'm confident if I get the same chance again I'll make sure I can put it in the net," he said. "After winning this it will put us in a good frame of mind and I'm sure Hearts will be a bit nervous about it."

Celtic, in contrast, will face Motherwell on Wednesday with a lingering sense of frustration. Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, blamed himself for starting with a 3-4-3 formation before switching to a back four but the scarcity of chances in the first half was testimony to a lack of creativity in the champions and a recurring reluctance shown by the forwards of Hooper, Georgios Samaras and Lassad Nouiouito to commit themselves to runs into the penalty box.

Emilio Izaguirre and Mickael Lustig threw a series of crosses into the penalty area that were defended well by Hibs without a conspicuous threat from Celtic. The champions, too, lacked a player to break open the game, particularly in a central area. Victor Wanyama and Scott Brown have obvious attributes but the threaded pass is not their trademark. Lennon can only quietly rue the recurring hamstring injury suffered by James Forrest. The winger can both supply the killer cross and finish well. He has been sorely missed. Kris Commons, another injury victim, also offers Celtic a threat with his ability to pick a pass and to shoot from distance.

On Saturday, Celtic increasingly forced the pace but only offered the threat of subtlety when Paddy McCourt came on. The Northern Irishman forced Ben Williams to make a good save but his every intervention was calculated to confound Hibs.

Celtic were a more threatening force for his presence and he even managed a 50-yard track back to foil a Hibs breakaway.

Williams also saved well from Hooper but the best chance for Celtic fell to Efe Ambrose, who was indifferent in defence but excellent in bringing the ball forward. However, the Nigerian somehow managed to hit the ball over the bar as his side frantically sought an equaliser.

"Yeah, I should have scored from that distance – but sometimes what do you expect? When the ball comes to you that fast, you don't see it until it hits you. It came so fast that the only option I had was to use my knee," he said.

The 24-year-old now is set to join his country for the Africa Cup of Nations. He is confident that the club will allow him to travel, first to a training camp in Portugal and then on to the tournament in South Africa, despite a possible suspension threat to Kelvin Wilson and injury to Charlie Mulgrew. "I'm just a player, I'm under contract. If the club says I can't go, then I can't go. It all depends on what they say," said Ambrose. "But I believe they will come to the right choice for me."

With Thomas Rogne available to replace him, he said: "I won't be worried about losing my place. If that is the challenge I have to face when I come back, I will face it. I will just have to fight my way back into the team. That will give me more edge and more drive to play my way back in."

With a six-point lead and a game in hand, Ambrose is likely also to return to a side that, whatever shortcomings were shown on Saturday, will be top of the league and destined to stay there.

aNALYSIS Hibs confident ahead of derby after another away malaise for champions

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