Celtic moved three points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League with a narrow 2-1 win over Hibernian here on Saturday.
Scott Brown’s fantastic fifth-minute strike was the only bright spot of a first half where Hibs failed to trouble Fraser Forster in goal and the Hoops strikers, who put six past Inverness in mid-week, misfired in front of goal.
Things improved after the break and Glenn Loovens doubled Celtic’s advantage with a diving header before former Hoops player Derek Riordan showed sublime skill to lob Forster from outside the box.
John Rankin sent a low drive just wide before Efrain Juarez smacked the crossbar with a header as Celtic held on for a win that moves them clear of Rangers, who play Aberdeen on Sunday.
Celtic made four changes to the side that had brushed Inverness aside in the League Cup, with hat-trick hero Georgios Samaras having to make do with a place on the bench.
However, the much changed Hoops had the perfect start when captain Brown opened the scoring with a fabulous effort.
The midfielder started the move on the halfway line and picked out Juarez with a pass. The Mexican rolled the ball back into the on-rushing Brown’s path and the midfielder took a touch before sending a shot into the top corner of the net from 25 yards.
Celtic were appealing for a penalty when Anthony Stokes took a tumble in the box but referee Calum Murray booked the Irishman for diving, much to the derision of the home fans, who felt Liam Miller had made contact with his former Hibs team-mate.
Gary Hooper volleyed a Cha Du-Ri cross wide of the post before Juarez sent a shot from distance sailing over visiting goalkeeper Mark Brown’s bar as a forgettable first half came to an end.
The second period began in a much livelier fashion. Stokes collected a poor clearance from Mark Brown but after taking a touch the striker sent a soft low drive straight back to the keeper.
The Hoops doubled their lead through an unlikely source in the 51st minute. Dutch defender Loovens beat Mark Brown with a diving header and the linesman ruled the ball had crossed the line despite an attempted clearance from Rankin.
It only took Hibs three minutes to reduce the deficit with a great goal from Riordan.
Edwin De Graff played the former Celtic player in and he showed great skill to send a chip over the six-foot, seven-inch (1.99m) Forster and into the net.
Riordan sent a free-kick from 30 yards straight into the hands of Forster before Rankin fired a low drive from distance just wide as Hibs pushed for an equaliser.
Samaras replaced Hooper and the Greek striker was inches from turning Stokes’ inviting cross past Mark Brown with 10 minutes to go.
Juarez rattled the crossbar with a header in the 85th minute after he connected with South Korean Du-Ri’s cross and when the ball went to the other end, Riordan sliced his volley wide.
Elsewhere, Motherwell moved into third place with a 2-0 win over Hearts, Hamilton moved off the bottom as they drew 2-2 with Kilmarnock, Inverness beat St Mirren 2-1 and Dundee United defeated St Johnstone 1-0.
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