The Season Book Years – 2004/05
Continuing the season book years series, remember that the one rule I set myself here was that I could only pick a game that was on the season book that I actually went to. As such, they’re all home league games. I might mention other games from that season to put it into the context of the season, but the main focus will be on that one home league game. So, with that in mind…
Celtic 1-3 Hibernian, 30th April 2005.
Beattie 59. O’Connor 7, Sproule 79, Brown 81.
The 2004/05 season was basically life after Larsson. Henrik had gone and Celtic had to try and adapt. Henri Camara had come in to “replace” Henrik, but ultimately it had been the loan signing of Craig Bellamy from Newcastle United that had made the difference in the second half of the season. Curiously, Bellamy had already played and scored at Celtic Park for Newcastle in the summer in a friendly, but a bust up with then Newcastle manager Graham Souness had seen the Welshman fall out of favour.
And pretty much make him a hero at Celtic before he had kicked a ball for us.
By the time the split came around, Celtic were in pole position. Two points clear of Rangers with five games to go, it looked all but done and dusted when Celtic went to Ibrox and won 2-1. Surely we wouldn’t bin it with a five point lead and just four games left?
The very next game was a home game against Tony Mowbray’s Hibernian. Hibs were chasing a European place, but hadn’t won at Celtic Park for thirteen years. What followed was a tactical masterclass from Mowbray. Celtic always looked second best in this game, and with Bellamy having hobbled off the park at Ibrox with a hamstring injury, we looked pretty toothless. Hibs, on the other hand, looked spritely and pretty much had the beating of Celtic all over the park. Garry O’Connor gave them the lead after just six minutes, and then sat in and soaked up the Celtic pressure while looking dangerous of the break.
Celtic actually did equalise on the hour mark through Craig Beattie, but just as Celtic looked like they might start to take a grip on the game, and even created some terrific chances only for goalkeeper Simon Brown to pull off some terrific saves, Mowbray made a couple of substitutions to swing the game back in Hibs favour. We’d taken an hour to take control of the game, but with a quick change of the team Hibs took back that control. Ivan Sproule was one of those subs, and he gave Hibs the lead with 11 minutes remaining. Then, before Celtic could regroup again, future Celtic captain Scott Brown chipped David Marshall to give Hibs a well deserved and unassailable lead.
The events at Fir Park a couple of weeks later are what everyone remembers about this season, but for me it was the defeat to Hibernian that really cost us the title that season. Rangers were effectively dead and buried after their defeat at Ibrox. To go out in the very next game and drop all three points gave that Rangers team the belief that they were still in the title race after all.
Celtic actually did something very similar in 2011 when we hammered Rangers 3-0 at Celtic Park only to lose to Motherwell at Fir Park the next week and give a beaten Rangers renewed hope. But that had come in February. Back in 2005 we were almost into May. It should have been all over, but we’d given Rangers a glimmer of hope. All they had to do was keep winning and hope Celtic dropped something else – which we did in those last few minutes in Motherwell.
Hibs fully deserved their win at Celtic Park that day, having been the better team until we finally figured out how to play them… but then all they did was change it up and finish the job. It still grates on me to this day that Martin O’Neill was so obviously out-thought that day, and if you were to look back on my message board days from then you’d see just how annoyed I was at the time! Of course, we would find out shortly thereafter that he was finishing up at Celtic to take care of his ill wife, so perhaps it was understandable if his mind was elsewhere at this point.
Hibs did of course go on and secure their European place despite losing to Rangers on that final day. They only had to ensure they didn’t lose by too much with Aberdeen trying to chase them down, so the 1-0 score line suited both teams at Easter Road that day. So much so that neither team even tried to change the score line as the minutes ticked away – much to the displeasure of anyone who has seen the footage since. It’s even been in the news in the last few days as there’s currently potential for another carve up situation at the bottom of the Premiership.
Had we beaten Hibs at Celtic Park though, our game at Fir Park would have been a day of celebration as we’d have clinched the title the previous week at Tynecastle – not to mention Hibs would have needed to win that final game against Rangers. But alas, that’s now how it played out.
I was in the South Stand at Fir Park on that day in May 2005. Indeed this was the one season where I got to every competitive Celtic match; home, away and abroad. For those reasons, this probably hurts me more than anything that happened through the 90s where I was watching on from afar. There is no doubt that it will live with me forever. But the home game against Hibernian at Celtic Park a few weeks earlier is a huge part of that disaster story for me, and I always think of it whenever someone mentions “Black Sunday”.
Of course, the corollary of this story is that from this day forth I considered Tony Mowbray to be an excellent manager who had the measure of Martin O’Neill that day. He didn’t just get his tactics right to begin with, he changed them mid-game and that ensured that Hibernian got all three points. So when Mowbray took over at Celtic in the 2009/10 season, I firmly believed we had the right man for the job.
To this day I still don’t know what the hell went wrong.