21st February, 1988. Celtic 0, Hibernian 0.
Having made rather hard work of their third round victory over Second Division strugglers Stranraer only weeks earlier, Celtic were now set to face the next opponents who stood in their way. However, this team were no Second Division side, they were one of Edinburgh’s “big two” Premier Division clubs, Hibernian, who had previously seen off First Division outfit Dumbarton in a third round replay.
Celtic have, to varying extents over the years, tried to play football the so called “Celtic Way”. This attacking, fluid football is both entertaining and exciting, and is one of the special aspects we all enjoy about supporting our club. While supporters are generally willing to put up with some dull, less than attractive football from time to time, and when the situation requires it, I know many of us wouldn’t be happy with our team playing a “hoof it” style football for any serious length of time.
And so, as a club with a reputation for always trying to play such an attractive style of football, it is perhaps surprising that the first match ever to be televised live from Celtic Park was a scoreless draw. Celtic had already faced Hibs three times at this stage in the 1987-88 season, winning 2-0 at Celtic Park in the most recent encounter, winning 1-0 at Easter Road, and drawing 1-1 at home early in the campaign.
The match itself was played out in front of over 30,000 people in the East End of Glasgow, and countless more around the country on the BBC. In truth, the game could have gone either way on several occasions. Hibernian reportedly had chances in the first, and last, few minutes of the match to score the opening goal, but were unable to convert either of them.
At the other end, Celtic and their supporters became more and more frustrated at their inability to score. This was largely down to the performance of the Hibernian goalkeeper, a man most Celtic supporters would proceed to loathe the sight of between the posts, Andy Goram.
One newspaper journalist, Andy Cameron, described Celtic’s frustrations in the following manner: “In a two minute period in the first half, Celtic had three scoring chances. A Mark McGhee effort came off Goram’s legs, a Mick McCarthy header was tipped over the bar, and from the corner Peter Grant hit the post from 18 yards.” (Please note, the full newspaper article in question can be found on www.thecelticwiki.com)
As the match continued to ebb and flow, Hibernian player Mickey Weir very nearly scored one of the goals of the season, as he attempted to chip Packie Bonner from all of forty yards. In truth, he wasn’t that far away, as the ball only went just over the bar and a helpless Bonner scrambled back in an attempt to save his blushes.
As the match fizzled out into a scoreless draw, we must, once again, turn to a quote from Alex Cameron which I feel best describes proceedings that day, “…there was much huffing and puffing, with Hibs passing well without creating enough danger and Celtic doing more near the goal to disturb, but not beat, Andy Goram.”
In his post match interviews, manager Billy McNeill said “It was particularly disappointing because the game was watched by millions live on television. I had previously thought that this would present a fine opportunity for my skilled players to show a watching public just how fluently Celtic can play. Sadly it just didn’t come off and credit to Hibs…we must play better.”
It is also of note that no less than six of the Celtic players who played that day had only just returned from international duty with Scotland, having played none other than Saudi Arabia, away, during the previous week.
Anyway, after a lot of effort from both sides, but no score, the tie would be decided by a replay at Easter Road, in Edinburgh, only days later.
24th February, 1988. Hibernian 0, Celtic 1.
Billy McNeill made several changes to his side for the second match, as Tommy Burns, Billy Stark and Derek Whyte came into Celtic’s starting line up, and Lex Baillie, Joe Miller, and Anton Rogan dropped out. As the teams ran out in front of a full house at Easter Road, and 24,000 people (including Kenny Dalglish, who was reportedly scouting a certain John Collins) watched on from the stands, I’m sure everyone was hoping to watch a more exciting display of football than that which had been on show only days previously.
Midway through the first half, Collins, the subject of much speculation linking him with a potential move to England, stole the ball from Chris Morris and went close with a shot from distance, forcing a save from Bonner. Later in the half, Derek Whyte saw a fine attempt saved by Goram, after Burns had cleverly made himself some space, and supplied his team mate with an inch perfect ball. Only moments later, as Celtic continued to probe for an opening goal, Whyte was once again denied, this time by the woodwork, as his header struck the crossbar. As the match continued to “to-and-fro”, and with Celtic having a slight edge, the tie was still goalless as the referee signalled the end of the first half for the second time in less than a week.
The second half progressed in a similar manner to the first, as both teams did their utmost to press on and win the match, with Celtic once again looking like the better side. Penalty appeals were to play their part in this half, as both Hibernian and Celtic were denied their claims. With around fifty three minutes played, the Hibernian players and supporters cried for a penalty, as McCarthy bundled over Mickey Weir in the Celtic box. Interestingly, while one newspaper journalist, the afore mentioned Alex Cameron, wrote, “Referee Bob Valentine said no…and I thought he was right” another journalist, Jim Black, writing for a different newspaper, said “they were denied what looked to be a blatant penalty.”
Only moments later, there was controversy at the other end of the field, as Paul McStay was “sent sprawling” in the opposition box, but once again the referee waved away claims from both players and supporters for a penalty.
And so, with only eleven minutes remaining in the match, after one hundred and sixty nine minutes of goalless action, Billy Stark scored the goal that would clinch Celtic’s place in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. Peter Grant is reported to have struck a shot from the edge of the box that cannoned back off of the crossbar, bounced on the surface, and looped into the air. As players on both sides threw themselves as the ball, it was Stark who got there in front of all the others, and headed the ball into the Hibernian net.
With a side now in the lead for the first time in almost two full matches of play, the game began, in truth, to fizzle out. The tie had looked destined for extra time until Stark scored, giving one team a huge lift, and virtually killing off the other’s chances. Hibs still had around ten minutes in which to attempt to score an equaliser, but as Celtic kept the ball, it was clear that fatigue was catching up with the Edinburgh side, who seemingly began to accept their fate.
As the final whistle blew, Celtic had once again scraped through into the next round by a margin of a single goal, as they set up a fifth round tie with Partick Thistle, at Firhill.
This is the second in a series of five daily articles, describing Celtic’s triumphant Scottish Cup run and victory in 1988, culminating on Sunday with the story of the Final. You can find the first of these articles in the “Blogs” section of our new website, and the next article, describing an all Glasgow tie at Firhill, will be published tomorrow.