Hibernian 0 Celtic 2: Strachan must release 'smaller boys' to make bigger impact on Barça

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The Independent Football

An away victory, under intense pressure, by two clear goals, in inhospitable territory. Celtic did it on Saturday at Easter Road. But can they repeat the feat tomorrow in Barcelona?

It's what Gordon Strachan's side need to do to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, having lost the home leg of their last-16 tie against Barça 3-2. On the evidence of that match, the answer is "No". They were outclassed by the Catalans. No logical leap can be made to suggest it will not happen again. Barça have not lost at home by two clear goals in Europe since Real Madrid beat them in the 2002 semi-finals.

But the manner of this victory in Edinburgh offers pointers to where Celtic's prayer of a chance might lie: and a prayer it is, at odds of 35-1 to go through.

They need luck to ride an onslaught against a team who pass better. They had this in Saturday's first half. Hibs' John Rankin, Steven Fletcher and Colin Nish troubled their visitors time and again. Rankin was thwarted in an early one-on-one with Artur Boruc. Nish had the ball in the net but was marginally offside. Fletcher, 20, roamed with intent to show why he is coveted by bigger fish.

Celtic will also need the tenacity embodied by their £4.4m midfielder, Scott Brown, 22, against his former club. He used to be wham-bam and argy-bargy. He's still dynamic, but much more tick-tock methodic, and even-tempered. But what Celtic really need is for Strachan to remove any burden of expectation, giving them licence to express themselves.

Hibs were coming off a run of four straight wins, Celtic a run of eight and desperate to keep the heat on Rangers in the title race. Not until Lee Naylor's 64th-minute solo run and goal – his first for the club – did the pressure visibly ease. But when it did, Celtic were in control.

Their play started to flow. "The smaller boys", which is how Strachan referred to Brown plus his wingers Aiden McGeady and Shunsuke Nakamura, and striker Scott McDonald, excelled. McGeady's runs with the ball became more frequent and penetrating. His cross provided Georgios Samaras with Celtic's second goal. Brown might have scored six times, and should have at least once. Three shots were saved, one blocked, one flew over, and a header was caught. Nakamura was a dead-ball danger, and McDonald, with 25 goals this season in all competitions, a constant distraction.

The last time Celtic played in the Nou Camp was a Champions League group match in 2004. It was effectively a dead rubber, and ended 1-1, with John Hartson scoring Celtic's goal. (Hartson, incidentally, who retired from playing last month after being released by West Brom, will decide this week whether to accept an offer to become the manager of lowly East Stirlingshire, where Sir Alex Ferguson started his managerial career).

But Barça are a different proposition now, and back in form, at least until a 4-2 La Liga defeat on Saturday at Atletico Madrid. As McGeady said yesterday before boarding Celtic's plane to Spain: "Barcelona don't have one or two world-class players, they have six or seven so to get through would be unbelievable. Other teams in La Liga can get results against Barcelona so I don't see why we can't, but it's going to be tough."

As will be retaining the title. Rangers started and ended Saturday four points clear at the top of the SPL. Celtic temporarily made the gap one. But Walter Smith's side, at home to Aberdeen, showed mettle to come from 1-0 down to win 3-1 for an 11th consecutive league win.

Both Old Firm sides have 11 SPL games remaining, three of them derbies, the first scheduled for 29 March at Ibrox. Before then, Rangers, due to commitments in three cup competitions, will play just one SPL game, while Celtic will play three. The SPL run-in, and not tomorrow, is where the pressure lies.

Goals: Naylor (64) 0-1; Samaras (75) 0-2.

Hibernian (4-4-2): McNeil; Gathuessi, Hogg, Canning, Zarabi; Kerr (Zemmama, 76), Rankin, Beuzelin (Chisholm, 16), Murray; Nish (O'Brien, 75), Fletcher. Substitutes not used: Grof (gk), Morais, Campbell, Hanlon.

Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor; Nakamura (Robson, 85), S Brown, Donati (Hartley, 82), McGeady; Vennegoor of Hesselink (Samaras, 72), McDonald. Substitutes not used: M Brown (gk), O'Dea, Sno, Riordan.

Referee: I Brines.

Booked: Hibernian Murray, Rankin, Chisholm; Celtic Donati, Boruc.

Man of the match: S Brown.

Attendance: 15,735.

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