(Harrison 51, 57, 80)
After a brave, enterprising first-half performance from Celtic, which had Hibs rocking back on their heels, their well-deserved 1-0 lead at half-time was insufficient to see the Hoops through in this Scottish Cup tie. An Abi Harrison second-half hat-trick for Hibernian put paid to the Celts’ Scottish Cup ambitions by a margin of 3-1.
It was a very encouraging start for the Hoops, when, after the initial sparring interchanges, an Abbi Grant shot from the left just failed to open the scoring when it drifted past the Hibs post.
With Kerry Montgomery firing on all cylinders in the Celtic midfield, quick-fire, short-passing movements involving Kelly Clark, Heather Richards and Natalie Ross restricted Hibs’ possession.
Celtic had the start they had dreamed of when, after Grant was up-ended some 20 yards from goal, the curving free-kick from Hoops skipper Kelly Clark took a cruel deflection and flew past Hibs keeper Jefferies.
This aggressive Celtic approach continued throughout the first-half, with their short passing, quick-pressing game forcing their opponents into a similar approach which did not sit well with them whereas in earlier games this season, Hibs had deployed a more expansive approach, attacking down the flanks, they found themselves in a more defensive mode, seldom threatening the Hoops’ goal.
Time and again Montgomery tested the Hibs back-line, but Celtic were unable to capitalise on her endeavours, although Kirsty Howat was sent through in 20 minutes, only to send her lofted shot wide.
Attempts on the Hibs goal by Grant, Howat and Montgomery failed to test the goalkeeper, and at the other end Celtic keeper Megan Cunningham had little to do in the way of shots on target.
Celtic would have been happy taking a 1-0 lead into the break, their quick-passing aggressive play having dictated the shape of the game throughout the first-half.
Hibs kept the Celtic players waiting for several minutes before they re-appeared for the second half. They were not tardy, however, in setting about their task of turning the game around.
It was clear that Hibs had decided to open up the game, and they did so by increasing the tempo of their passing and using the full width of the pitch. Within minutes Abi Harrison fired in a shot which Cunningham parried, and then in 51 minutes the same player picked up a loose ball and calmly placed it past Cunningham to level the scores.
Celtic were now very much on the defensive, and their midfield was pushed further back into their own half. They were also finding it difficult to relieve the pressure with forward passes as striker Suzanne Mulvey and wide players Grant and Howat were unable to find space.
Megan Cunningham was beginning to excel in the Celtic goal as she pulled off several outstanding saves to keep her side in contention. She had to admit defeat in 57 minutes when a swift Hibs counter-attack fed in Harrison, who once again finished calmly.
Harrison was the stuff of nightmares for the Celtic defence when she had the ball in the net once more but was adjudged offside.
With only a single goal difference, Celtic still had hope of rescuing the tie as the game moved towards the final 10 minutes. Several changes in shape were made, but a dangerous free-kick from the right was the best Celtic could manage.
In 80 minutes, it was Harrison yet again who sealed the match for the Edinburgh side with a delicate finish following a speedy raid down their right.
After a most promising first-half when they controlled play, were skilful and aggressive and very much looked the part, the second half was a huge anti-climax. It has to be said that Ross, Richards and Montgomery as always worked tirelessly throughout, but there was a growing nervousness about the team as a whole which was untypical.
Celtic’s Player of the Match was undoubtedly goalkeeper Megan Cunningham who was outstanding throughout the second half, brave, agile and surefooted.
Manager David Haley said: “It was a really pleasing first-half performance in which we had control of the game and looked confident in possession.
“The game changed after a defensive error gave Hibs the impetus to drive forward and we then became disorganised as a team when we should have been going back to basics.
“I know the team will bounce back from this disappointment and there is no better game to do this than against Glasgow City next Sunday.”
CELTIC: Cunningham, Middleton, Clark (C), Rafferty, Dalgliesh, Howat, Ross, Richards, Montgomery, Grant (McBrearty 80), Mulvey. Subs not used: Kerr, Paton, Connolly, Whyte, Cairney, Rae.
Reported by Celtic FC
Picture: Celtic FC