The visitors lost striker Elie Youan to a highly debatable second yellow card following a tangle with Cameron Carter-Vickers on the halfway line. Youan was deemed to have been recklessly high with a challenge as both players tussled for the ball. The Hibs striker was falling backwards while the Celtic defender was toppling forward. "Maybe a foul, maybe not. It's definitely not a yellow card and this is the problem with VAR, it has to be clear and obvious (to overrule it)," said the Hibs manager. Referee Steven McLean judged Youan to have used a high boot and having already been booked for a foul on Carl Starfelt, he was off. Only 25 minutes had been played.
Hibs did go in front six minutes before half time after Starfelt was penalised for tugging Paul Hanlon in the box and Josh Campbell converted the penalty. But Celtic made their numerical advantage count after the interval with goals from Jota from the spot – after Hanlon was penalised for manhandling Carter-Vickers – and substitutes Hyeongyu Oh and Sead Haksabanovic. Oh's header came with just nine minutes of normal time left.
Johnson – who was booked in the first half for failing to control his backroom staff – felt neither penalty was the right call and urged the authorities to make officials full-time to avoid more chaotic scenes of the type witnessed at Celtic Park. VAR was used several times, including to overturn a penalty award after McLean judged Hibs goalkeeper David Marshall to have tripped Liel Abada.
"I think the referee made the call for the red card, from what he told me,” said the Hibs manager. “He said it was a reckless challenge. It was hardly a reckless challenge. He's got his back to goal, he's pinned him early, and he's off-balance. There's contact with the foot, the ball, and the head. Carter-Vickers is much closer to the ground. He's obviously down low, what is Elie expected to do? He's not gone up with his studs out and kicked him.
"If the refs were training full time they would understand that these things aren't fouls, and that's where VAR annoys me because of the grey areas – it's got to be clear and obvious to make the decisions. The overturned penalty was ridiculous. Everybody could see that it was a good save and Abada fell over his own feet. He had a great view of it. It's just frustrating because I don't think the lads deserve what happened to them today but I will take a lot from the character and spirit that we're building now in the club.
Johnson added: “I'm a bit of a lobbyist to give refs more money because I think the league should be employing professional referees. It's a big European league. It's important, there's a lot of money at stake, European places at stake – there could be five clubs in Europe next season. You've got to have the standard to match and that means full-time referees and working day in, day out with each other, doing your analysis on teams and players. It (means) working better as a team, it's communicating better in the technical areas or on the microphones to each other.”