Celtic leapfrogged their visitors to go into second place in the league with a display containing evidence of their old, ominous swagger.
As well as scoring four times, Celtic hit the woodwork on five occasions and forced several good saves from Hibs’ Hungrian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan. Somehow this was not all enough to provide them with any degree of comfort until right towards the end, when they were gunning for a fifth goal. Only a deflection against a post prevented the impressive Odsonne Edouard completing his hat-trick.
Hibs were often wasteful when they did have opportunities to test Craig Gordon. They did cut the deficit in half shortly after the hour mark after an alarming start when they conceded twice in the opening 20 minutes. Such slackness, perhaps the result of a three-at-the-back system that looked ill suited to them from the start, was a surprise after a four-match run without conceding. Neil Lennon quickly reverted to a back four.
Celtic restored their two-goal advantage through Edouard but conceded again shortly afterwards. Martin Boyle was allowed to scamper through before dinking the ball over the advancing Craig Gordon. Although often out-played, Hibs were not out of it until the closing stages. Such doggedness is why they can’t be discounted as title challengers whatever Lennon, their manager, says.
But it’s also possible to interpret this as the start of Celtic’s own bid to put some serious pressure on leaders Hearts. Remarkably, this victory marks the first time Brendan Rodgers’ side have strung together a run of three successive league wins since January. They host Hearts at the start of next month.
This clash of second against third was every bit as enjoyable – and competitive - as hoped. It was also the stage for a Tom Rogic master class in the 72 minutes he was on. At times there was nowhere to hide for a Hibs side already kitted out in luminous yellow.
Celtic withstood Scott Brown’s departure midway through the first-half to produce some often brilliant football.
Lennon cut an often unhappy, frustrated figure on the sidelines. His team had begun to wilt after what seemed a confident start. Even then, they could have finished the opening half on a high.
Boyle is not noted for his prowess in the air but his header was going in all the way before Gordon threw himself to his left to tip the ball past the post. Celtic were dominant but had this effort gone in just a couple of minutes before half-time it could have allowed doubts to form in their heads. There was still time before half-time for Hibs to pass up another chance; Boyle shot wildly over after a break from a corner to test his manager’s patience still further.
Gordon’s reactions were doubly impressive since he had mostly been an onlooker in the opening half. He did have reason to be alarmed in the opening minute when Stevie Mallan’s free-kick flashed past his right post after Brown up-ended Emerson Hyndman and picked up a booking for his troubles and perhaps also an injury. He tried to run the knock off but was replaced by Scott Sinclair after 21 minutes.
Celtic came even closer with a free-kick just a minute later. Darren McGregor was penalised for a foul on Callum McGregor, noting goalkeeper Adam Bogdan’s suspect positioning, tried to curl his free-kick effort over him. He was close; the ball hit the top of the bar and then went over.
The opening goal arrived after only eight minutes and originated from a move down the right that might not be bettered by Celtic all season. Mikael Lustig was the driving force before he left the intricate work to Rogic.
Rogic and Forrest.
The players exchanged passes and Rogic did not have to break stride as he curled the ball home in his usual elegant style. Celtic could only look to build on the lift such a well-worked goal had given them. Bogdan had to be alert to beat a powerful Olivier Ntcham shot away.
Just 19 minutes in Forrest and Rogic once again teamed up before the latter teed up Ntcham to stroke past Bogdan. Celtic could have avoided some of the nervy moments to come had they gone three-up just after the half hour mark but Bogdan blocked from Edouard before Sinclair hit the loose ball against the post. Forrest could not convert the second rebound.
Hibs scored possibly the goal of the match after 63 minutes after a Boyle-led break that also involved Daryl Horgan, who fed Florian Kamberi on the far left of the box. The Swiss striker turned inside before striking confidently into the top corner.
Celtic reacted strongly, hitting the post again through Edouard before the same player was on hand to turn in Forrest’s cut back after the winger left Mark Milligan in his wake down the left.
Boyle then raced through to bring Hibs to within a goal of securing a point. These hopes were finally extinguished when Edouard forced the ball past Bogdan after the ball landed kindly for him following McGregor’s dinked cross from the left.