Sometimes when the opponents are sitting deeper than the Mariana Trench and every potential gap is being closed as quickly as they appear, all you want is a proper beast of a centre-forward to go roaring into the penalty box, bully his marker so badly that the poor lad may need counselling afterwards – and connect with a header that goes screaming into the net with all the brutal force of a comet streaking through the atmosphere.
On a day when Celtic maintained their ridiculous run of domestic domination with yet another couple of late, late goals to see off dogged ten-man Hibs, Hyeongyu Oh – already a cult hero in the making – was the man doing the Tarzan impersonation to send poor Josh Campbell flying and score the crucial go-ahead goal inside the closing 10 minutes.
In a game where Ange Postecoglou’s men enjoyed nearly 80 per cent of the possession and were credited with a barely credible 35 shots, with nine of those on target, it’s always easy, in retrospect, to say that the killer blow felt like it was coming. But the truth was that, even with the visitors down to ten men following Elie Youan’s early sending-off, the home side didn’t always find the penetration to go with their easy circulation of the ball.
Part of that was down to personnel issues, obviously. They miss Aaron Mooy when he’s not there to operate in between the opposition defence and midfield. And the departure of Reo Hatate with an injury after just 12 minutes saw an equally important game breaker exit, stage left.
They were also up against a Hibs side who had prepared for this game by playing an outfield 10 against 15 opponents in training, in the hope of simulating Celtic’s swarming ability to occupy about six different areas at once. Lee Johnson’s men set up in a 5-3-1-1 that was all about closing off the passing lanes. Early on, it looked as if the all-energy movement of Hatate was going to wreak havoc on this ultra-defensive set-up.
The Japanese midfielder’s departure robbed Celtic of an obvious threat, the dismissal of Youan forced Hibs to sit even deeper – and the Easter Road side were hardly likely to throw caution to the wind after going ahead from the penalty spot, with all nine outfielders regularly packed in or around their own 18-yard box in a bid to deny their hosts a clear shot on goal.
Celtic had plenty of the ball, obviously. But their inability/unwillingness to punch holes in the Hibs line was summed up by Matt O’Riley taking possession well up the park early in the second half, with options to get Jota one-on-one against Lewis Stevenson – always a good match-up for Celtic – or play in early sub David Turnbull, who had managed to get himself on the wrong/right side of the Hibs midfield. But the Danish midfielder played the ball backwards, allowing the visitors to regroup and reset.
The introduction of Oh made a massive difference to Celtic, who had equalised from the penalty spot not long before the home team’s triple substitution. Postecoglou even tweaked his shape a little to accommodate the centre forward, dropping Kyogo into a supporting role.
The decision to have Hibs scorer Campbell go man-to-man on the South Korean striker at set-pieces might have seemed like a fair enough idea, on paper. But Campbell immediately being rag-dolled as Oh sent a bouncing corner over the bar should have been a warning.
When the same pair lined up against each other with 81 minutes on the clock, just as Hibs were beginning to dream of sneaking a point out of Parkhead, the big fella must have been licking his lips – and he duly overpowered his marker to grab the winner.
Those questions over Celtic’s decision to let Giorgos Giakoumakis leave in January are being answered, rather emphatically, by Oh. An increasingly valuable player. Because there will be more days like this. Afternoons when the ball isn’t moved with quite the usual zip – or those little eight-yard runs needed to drag opponents out of their entrenched defensive positions aren’t quite sharp enough to get the job done.
Postecoglou can point to the fact that his team kept working, kept passing, kept moving and rotating to keep Hibs from getting set. The definitive goal came from a corner won, after all, at the end of another typically all-action attack. Even allowing for Sead Haksabanovic's security strike deep into extra time, however, it certainly helped that they had an imposing figure like Oh on hand to ensure that their efforts yielded another three precious points.
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