Celtic 2-0 Hibs: Frimpong shines as Hoops restore two-point lead at summit of table with win over Hibs
Jeremie Frimpong further enhanced his rapidly growing status as a Celtic crowd favourite with another effervescent display as the Scottish champions restored their two-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
The teenager’s summer capture from Manchester City is shaping up as one of the shrewdest pieces of business Neil Lennon has ever done as Celtic manager.
Frimpong opened the scoring in a hard-earned but fully merited victory over Hibs whose hopes of taking something from the game were completely snuffed out by Odsonne Edouard’s 15th goal of the season.
Jack Ross can take encouragement from some aspects of his team’s performance but they were unable to capitalise on their best moments.
Frimpong flourished as a right wing-back in the 3-5-2 formation deployed by Lennon as he reshaped his side in the absence of both Ryan Christie and Mikey Johnston.
The Dutch teenager proved a handful for Hibs from the early moments of the game, regularly forcing Martin Boyle to abandon his own attacking duties for Hibs and drop back to help Lewis Stevenson on the left side of the visitors’ defence.
Celtic captain Scott Brown, perhaps encouraged by his double against his old club in the League Cup semi-final last month, was first to try his luck for the hosts but his 22 yard shot drifted well wide of Ofir Marciano’s right hand post.
The Israeli goalkeeper was called into serious action for the first time in the 10th minute when he made a smart save to keep out Olivier Ntcham’s stinging drive from a Callum McGregor pass. When Hibs were unable to clear properly, Ntcham floated the ball back into the penalty area where James Forrest glanced a header wide.
While Celtic largely dominated, Hibs did produce some eye-catching bursts of play which might have seen them snatch the lead.
After a magnificent crossfield pass from Stevie Mallan had picked out Jason Naismith on the right of Celtic’s penalty area, it needed a well timed challenge from Kristoffer Ajer to prevent the Hibs full-back getting a shot away.
Boyle, finding respite from his duties in checking Frimpong’s advances, then displayed excellent footwork to jink away from Nir Bitton and curl a shot narrowly wide of Fraser Forster’s left hand post.
Celtic were soon back on the front foot and Edouard should have made the breakthrough in the 17th minute. Frimpong brilliantly beat Boyle to set up the opportunity but Edouard, untypically, lacked conviction as he slashed a shot well off target.
As Celtic increased the tempo, Forrest saw a shot blocked by Paul Hanlon before turning provider with clever play on the left before feeding McGregor whose low shot was safely held by Marciano.
The pressure was building on Hibs who were struggling to find the counter-attacking situations they had come close to exploiting earlier.
Boli Bolingoli was just as eager as Frimpong to get forward for Celtic and the left wing-back swept a shot just wide of the scrambling Marciano’s left hand post.
Hibs now looked like a side in need of the half-time whistle but it didn’t come soon enough for them as Frimpong finally broke their resistance in the 39th minute. The manner of the goal’s concession would be a source of frustration for Hibs manager Ross.
Ryan Porteous was guilty of losing possession cheaply, allowing Celtic to spring into an attack which saw Edouard’s neat pass find Frimpong bursting into the penalty area where he displayed great composure to slot his low shot under Marciano from close range.
Marciano suffers injury
Hibs were forced into a change at the start of the second half, resuming with Chris Maxwell in goal for the injured Marciano.
Celtic were quickly back into their stride and McGregor might have done better than drag a shot wide of Maxwell’s left hand post after being set up invitingly by Forrest.
Frimpong continued to torment the Hibs defence at every opportunity and he carved out another premium chance for Edouard in the 56th minute only for the striker to again lack his usual finesse as he blazed his shot wildly over.
While a second goal continued to elude Celtic, hope remained for Hibs and they threatened for the first time in the second half when Naismith worked a clever one-two with Christian Doidge on the edge of the Celtic penalty area but could not seriously test Forster with a tame shot.
Some of the spark had gone out of Celtic’s play but they snuffed out the prospect of a Hibs recovery when the finally made it 2-0 in the 66th minute. Edouard, just about to be replaced by Leigh Griffiths who was waiting on the next break in play to make his entrance, made his final touch of the afternoon a telling one as he collected a pass from Forrest and bundled home from around eight yards.
For all that Hibs had conjured up some encouraging moments, it took until the 82nd minute before Forster was forced into his only significant save of the contest. Even then, it was one of his own players who came close to denying the big ‘keeper his clean sheet as he reacted superbly to prevent Christopher Jullien heading a cross from Hibs substitute Daryl Horgan into his own net.
The closing stages were fairly comfortable for Celtic who came close to adding a third when Griffiths spun in the box and sent his shot just wide of Maxwell’s left hand post.