Two Browns conspire to leave Celtic in black mood

Celtic 1 - Hibernian 3
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The Independent Football

Those who believe the Scottish Premier League is all about the Old Firm were given further evidence to contrary yesterday as Tony Mowbray blew the title race wide open again by inflicting a stunning defeat upon his old club, Celtic.

Those who believe the Scottish Premier League is all about the Old Firm were given further evidence to contrary yesterday as Tony Mowbray blew the title race wide open again by inflicting a stunning defeat upon his old club, Celtic.

The champions might have felt that last weekend's success against Rangers had secured their prize, but they slumped to a second defeat in three games at Parkhead as Ivan Sproule and Scott Brown scored within 90 seconds of each other for the third-placed side in a dramatic climax.

Celtic still have a five-point lead over their rivals, who face their own fierce scrutiny today at Pittodrie from an Aberdeen side who are contesting the duel for a Uefa Cup place with Hibernian.

Celtic were shorn of three of their side who secured the vital Old Firm success at Ibrox just six days earlier, with Craig Bellamy, Chris Sutton and Didier Agathe all succumbing to injury. That meant that Martin O'Neill was short of strikers and had to press-gang Shaun Maloney into action, just weeks after the youngster had returned from a 14-month absence with a knee injury.

If Maloney was betrayed by a lack of sharpness in the first half, there was no such problem for Garry O'Connor. The Scotland striker netted for Hibernian in last week's draw with Hearts and he collected his 19th of the season here after just seven minutes when he finished a sublime move.

A cute back-heel in his own half by Derek Riordan prompted a ruthless counter-attack that saw Scott Brown thread a pass into O'Connor, who drifted in behind Stanislav Varga and then drew David Marshall before steering a composed right-foot shot beyond the goalkeeper.

Bobo Balde should have restored parity after 17 minutes when he was given the freedom to meet Alan Thompson's free-kick at the near post, but glanced wide.

Simon Brown, the Hibernian goalkeeper, then saved at the feet of Jackie McNamara, but Marshall had to match that to deny Antonio Murray.

It was little surprise when O'Neill replaced the rusty Maloney with Craig Beattie at half-time, and the substitute would reward his manager's faith, although not before Riordan had contributed another scare for Parkhead.

The alert striker pounced on a mistake by Varga and lobbed Marshall for what seemed like a certain goal, but the goalkeeper produced a remarkable recovery to push the ball wide.

Beattie brought the contest back to an equal footing when he scored just before the hour. Stilian Petrov's cross into the box was headed down by Varga and Beattie thrashed a right-foot volley past Brown.

The Hibernian goalkeeper was crucial to the visitors surviving Celtic's subsequent onslaught, diving to his left eight minutes later to paw away John Hartson's header.

Mowbray then changed the course of the game by introducing the pace of Sproule and Dean Shiels, and the pair combined to put Hibernian ahead in the 79th minute. Sproule exchanged passes with Shiels and shot under Marshall. Just 90 seconds later, Scott Brown compounded Celtic's misery by racing from his own half and chipping the keeper.

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