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Celtic coach insists there's 'not a regret' over Dubai trip while club refuse to give up title chase despite late Hibernian heartache

 

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Hibernian's Kevin Nisbet celebrates scoring his side's late equaliser at Celtic Park.

Hibernian's Kevin Nisbet celebrates scoring his side's late equaliser at Celtic Park.

PA

Hibernian’s Kevin Nisbet equalised at the death (Jane Barlow/PA)

Hibernian’s Kevin Nisbet equalised at the death (Jane Barlow/PA)

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Hibernian's Kevin Nisbet celebrates scoring his side's late equaliser at Celtic Park.

Gavin Strachan refused to call time on Celtic’s title hopes despite seeing the Covid-hit champions surrender more ground to runaway leaders Rangers on Monday evening.

The Hoops are now 21 points behind league leaders Rangers with three games in hand after Hibernian striker Kevin Nisbet fired an injury-time equaliser past Northern Irish goalkeeper Conor Hazard to cancel out David Turnbull's sublime free-kick in another devastating blow to the Hoops' faint title hopes.

It was a makeshift Celtic side after defender Christopher Jullien tested positive on return from the team's training camp in Dubai, forcing 13 of his team-mates, as well as manager Neil Lennon and his assistant John Kennedy, into self-isolation.

None of those players will return in time for Saturday's home game against Livingston but, despite the chaos caused in its aftermath, Strachan refused to say the club had chosen the wrong option by travelling on their mid-season training camp.

Furious fans have hit out at the decision to let Jullien take the 3,000-mile flight to the UAE despite being ruled out for four months with a serious knee injury.

But first-team coach Strachan - who took over Lennon's dugout duties at Celtic Park - insisted it was done with the best of intentions.

"It was to maintain his treatment with the backroom staff, he went over there so we can get him back as fast as we can," he said.

"Yeah, I can understand the frustration from everybody, because we end up playing with a weaker team tonight, but that could have happened if we were training at home as well.

"There's a lot of teams up and down the country, and in England as well, who are suffering with this.

"There's regret that one person has caught the virus but there's not a regret in terms of the permission we got to go and the protocols that we followed, which we have done the whole season.

"It's regrettable that we got one positive, which we could have got at any time."

As regards Celtic's seemingly ill-fated bid for a record 10th successive league title, Strachan said Monday's late blow was 'tough to take' but insisted his side will not yet admit defeat.

"Where does it leave the title race? It leaves it as more difficult," he said. "It does, but there's still la lot of football to be played. We've just got to pick up as many points as we can and hope that other factors maybe change in our favour.

“You just have to keep going. There’s a lot of football to be played and you never know what might happen.

“We just need to win on Saturday against Livingston and keep racking up the points and see what happens.

“There’s a big deficit of course but we’ve been in decent form, even when you look at the performance against Rangers."

Hibs boss Jack Ross hopes the result can jolt his side out of their recent slump as they brought a run of three straight defeats to an end.

He said: “We wanted to come and win the game. We were frustrated at the time of the Celtic goal because I didn’t think we deserved to lose the game.

“We merited something so that anger was tempered the end.

“The recent games have been sore for us, and painful because they’ve not been a reflection of how we’ve performed this season.

“Tonight stops the bleeding a bit in that respect. The players just need to be reminded that they’ve done an awful lot of good things this season and hopefully tonight propels us in the right direction again.

“Nisbet has scored a lot of different goals and that was a bit part of the attraction about signing him.

“He’s still young and will improve but his return has been excellent. I didn’t appreciate how good a finish it was until I saw it again. It was terrific.”

CELTIC: Hazard, Frimpong, Welsh, Duffy, Laxalt, Soro, McGregor, Harper (Oko-Flex, 61 mins), Rogic (Henderson, 67 mins), Turnbull, Johnston (Dembele, 79 mins). Unused subs: Taylor, Connell, Ralston, Coffey, Hjelde, Doohan.

HIBERNIAN: Macey, P McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, Hallberg (S McGinn, 80 mins), Wright (Doidge, 52 mins), Gogic, Newell (Mallan, 68 mins), Murphy, Nisbet, Doig (Stevenson, 46 mins). Unused subs: Gray, Gullan, Dabrowski, McGregor, Bradley.

Referee: Steven McLean

Man of the match: David Turnbull

PA


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