You’ve got to hand it to Celtic. The players seem to fall like nine-pins. The games come along like snowflakes in a blizzard. Yet still they move onwards and upwards.
By rights, this ought to have been the most taxing of assignments. An absentee list like a school register and a Hibs team enjoying something of a free swing until their managerial situation is clarified might well have made for a major bump in the road. Not a bit of it.
Having laboured towards the end of the last calendar year, Brendan Rodgers’ side have started this one like a train. That’s six assignments now ticked off in short order, 16 goals scored in the process and none conceded.
Oliver Burke completed the scoring for Celtic to maintain their momentum at the top of table
Ryan Christie had given the hosts the lead after 23 minutes despite a slew of injuries
You don’t need a map and a compass to locate the source of the improvement. After a string of hugely underwhelming transfer windows, this month, Celtic have got serious.
CELTIC (4-3-2-1): Bain 7; Toljan 7, Simunovic 7, Boyata 7 (Bitton 75) Izaguirre 6 (Hayes 83); Brown 7, McGregor 8, Christie 7; Weah 7, Sinclair 7 (Johnston 73) Burke 7. SUBS NOT USED: Gordon, Bayo, Lustig, Henderson. Booked: Brown.
GOALS: Christie 24, Burke 63
HIBERNIAN (4-4-2): Marciano 6; Gray 5 (Johnson 65) McGregor 6, Hanlon 6, Stevenson 6; Milligan 5, Slivka 6, Mackie 5, Gauld 5 (Mallan 59); Shaw 5 (McNulty 45) Kamberi 5. SUBS NOT USED: Dabrowski, Nelom, Bigirimana, Omeonga. Booked: Milligan, Kamberi, Johnson: Callum McGregor.
REFEREE: Craig Thomson.
On the limited evidence to date, Timothy Weah, Oliver Burke and Jeremy Toljan are the answers to the questions that were increasingly being asked.
They each played their part in this routine win over a listless Hibs side and appear to be elevating the displays of those around them to new levels.
The fact Celtic remain just six points clear of Rangers will prevent any chickens being counted. If this is what Rodgers’ depleted outfit is doing to the competition, though, it goes without saying that it will take something extraordinary to prevent a full strength side doing likewise over the course of the next four months.
The only black cloud over Rodgers on the night was the sight of Emilio Izaguirre being stretchered off near the end after a woeful challenge by Hibs substitute Darnell Johnson that, remarkably, was deemed only worthy of a yellow card by referee Craig Thomson.
For Celtic at the moment, if it wasn’t for bad luck on that front, they’d have none at all.
- Scottish Premiership
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
For all injury lists can be conveniently talked up, there was no question that Celtic were only a broken goalkeeper’s finger away from having a fairly tasty side sidelined through injury, illness or suspension.
Dedryck Boyata’s return to central defence was the main upside for Rodgers. The Celtic manager handed Toljan his first start and rewarded Weah’s telling impact at Perth with his second start.
Eddie May’s third game in charge, probably two more than he’d bargained for, saw Ryan Gauld and Sean Mackie displace Stevie Mallan and Marvin Bartley.
You suspect an outbreak of the plague won’t keep Callum McGregor out of Rodgers’ side these days. This was the midfielder’s 50th outing of the season for club and country. Not that you’d have known it.
Seizing possession 40 yards from goal, he executed and one-two with Burke which allowed him to get an early shot away. Only a fine block by his namesake Darren prevented Ofir Marciano being called into action.
Christie served notice of what was to come with a timely picking of Olly Shaw’s pocket 30 yards out. The Hibs keeper cut a relieved figure as the resultant shot whistled past the post. Ominously for the visitors, Celtic were getting into gear.
Christie continued his fine goalscoring form for Celtic with the opener in the first half
Midfielder Callum McGregor impressed on his 50th outing of the season for club and country
Another McGregor slide-rule pass saw Weah time his run to perfection. Fortunately for Hibs, Marciano advanced from his line and sprawled to block.
Hibs saw plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges. Too often, however, Gauld’s touch or balance let him down and promising attacks came to nothing. Mark Milligan’s wild slash at Flo Kamberi’s cross was as good as it got in front of goal.
Scott Sinclair looked like someone relishing the added competition the January window has brought. He glided away from a succession of challenges before curling a shot just over the top and generally looked like someone who was back in the groove.
The opening goal was a masterclass in movement and weight of pass. Toljan had impressed in the second half in Perth on Sunday and looked at home in his new surroundings from the first whistle.
Waiting patiently for the right opening to present itself, the German took out two opponents with a gentle prod with his right foot. Weah was on his wavelength and had seen Christie looming before he’d even rested his foot on the ball. The midfielder fired a low shot across the goal and found the only square foot of the net that Marciano couldn’t reach.
Darnell Johnson was lucky to receive only a yellow card for a nasty tackle on Emilio Izaguirre
He almost got away with it, too. A relatively controversy-free night was definitely on the cards for Craig Thomson, arguably Scotland’s most recognisable referee.
And then Hibs substitute Darnell Johnson went flying through Emilio Izaguirre with the kind of challenge that could do serious damage.
It was reckless. It was dangerous. And it almost certainly deserved more than just the yellow card shown by Thomson.
Up until that point, the man in black had coped pretty well. He might have booked Scott Brown sooner than he did, was correct to yellow card Mark Milligan and generally let the game flow.
Oliver Burke was upset not to have a penalty appeal taken more seriously.
But not as annoyed as the Celtic bench when Johnson went steaming in on Izaguirre.
Weah was desperate to get in on the act but found Marciano’s frame rather than the corner of the net with a low drive from a central position.
Milligan’s booking for scything down Christie was indicative of Hibs’ growing frustration. Hopes of an unlikely leveller before the break were snuffed out by Boyata’s covering tackle to deny Shaw a clear run on goal.
Mark McNulty replaced the ineffective Olly Shaw at the break for May’s men.
Scott Brown’s booking for going through Milligan came with an air of revenge but naturally no apology.
Another sumptuous Toljan delivery sent Weah flying down the right. Sinclair gathered the American’s crops but couldn’t direct it on target.
Christie did work Marciano after Weah played him in seconds later but there was no pace in his stabbed effort.
Burke’s pace and power worried Hibs all night. He skipped away from Paul Hanlon with embarrassing ease only to chose the wrong option by trying to beat the keeper at his near post.
Izaguirre had to be stretchered off the field late on following the challenge from Johnson
Weah’s growing influence was illustrated by a cynical foul on him by Kamberi which brought the game’s third booking.
It was only a question of how long Hibs could stray in the contest. Marciano kept his side believing when he beat away Boyata’s point=blank header from Christie’s free-kick the second goal seemed only a matter of time.
McGregor – who else? – was its instigator with a intelligent clip to Burke. The on-loan West Brown man was intent on trying his luck from the second the ball came to him. Darren McGregor gambled by going to ground and could only look to the heavens as the ball spun off him, up and over Marciano and into the net.
The game would have petered out had it not been for a desperate challenge by Hibs substitute Johnson on Izaguirre. As the Honduran was stretchered off, the yellow card Thomson had flashed seconds earlier looked ridiculously lenient.
Celtic are six points clear at the top having won six consecutive games and scored 16 goals
The hosts applaud their home supporters after completing a routine victory over Hibernian