Terry Butcher tasted defeat for the first time as manager of Hibs as Teemu Pukki’s first goal in three months earned champions Celtic the three points.
The Glasgow side enjoyed the vast majority of possession throughout the 90 minutes but in the end the team which had handed out hammerings to Ross County, Aberdeen, Hearts and Motherwell in their last four Scottish Premiership matches only had the little Finn’s 28th minutes goal to show.
And, incredibly, Hibs might have snatched a point, skipper Liam Craig smacking a second half shot off the post with Celtic goalkeeper Fraster Forster beaten.
Butcher made two changes to the side which drew with Partick Thistle, Michael Nelson returning to partner Paul Hanlon in central defence with Jordon Forster lining up at right back instead of Alan Maybury while Scott Robertson was back from injury, Owain Tudur Jones making way in midfield.
Celtic made three changes following their humiliation in Barcelona, Emilio Izaguirre, suspended for the trip to the Nou Camp, returning alongside Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes who were on the bench in midweek, meaning Adam Matthews and Giorgios Samaras were among the4 subsitutes while Dirk Boerrigter missed out due to injury.
A rain lashed Celtic Park was half-empty as referee Bobby Madden got the game underway and for the opening 20 minutes or so it was a low key affair, Lewis Stevenson firing a low shot wide before Paul Hanlon got in front of Pukki to head Izaguirre’s cross away from danger.
Neil Lennon’s side, predictably, enjoyed the majority of possession but there was no evidence of the backlash Hibs might have expected from a side hurting from suffering the sort of scoreline they have been more used to inflicting on other Scottish teams in recent weeks.
Hibs, though, were finding themselves increasingly pinned down inside their own half and Celtic finally broke Hibs resolute defence as Scotland skipper Scott Brown played a slide-rule pass for Joe Ledley to deliver an inviting low cross for Pukki to steal in ahead of Hanlon to poke home from close-range.
Stokes almost made it two for Celtic four minutes later with a powerful shot from 25 yards Ben Williams pushed over the top and then the Hibs goalkeeper was quick off his line to gather the ball when the former Hibs striker, having got in behind the visiting defence, couldn’t take Mikael Lustig’s ball over the top cleanly.
But other than that early Stevenson shot and a Jordon Forster header which went over, Hibs hadn’t troubled Fraser Forster until two minutes before half-time when the Celtic goalkeeper was forced to throw himself to his left to push away Robertson’s shot.which was bound for the bottom corner of his net.
Celtic resumed after the interval by again taking control of proceedings, Williams beating away an angled shot from Brown and clutching another from Commons although Robertson again went close with a low drive which went inches wide.
A deflected Brown shot almost caught Williams out but he did well to get his hands to the ball, Nelson stepping in to complete the clearance before the Hibs goalkeeper pushed a shot from Commons high into the air before catching it at the second attempt.
However, as long as Hibs remained just a goal behind they were in with a chance and they almost equalised in the 61st minute when Liam Craig’s shot came back off Forster’s left hand post with Paul Cairney unable to gather the rebound leaving Izaguirre to hack clear.
Celtic might have been reduced to ten men when Stokes had a clear kick at Forster 20 minutes from time, but escaped without even a booking as referee Madden chose only to issue a word of warning.
Celtic: F Forster, Lustig (Matthews 73), Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Commons, Brown, Biton, Ledley, Stokes, Pukki (Samaras 57).i.
Substitutes not used: Zaluska, Fisher, Atajic, Henderson, Balde.
Hibs: Williams, J Forster, Nelson, Hanlon, McGivern, Cairney (Zoubir 68),, Robertson, Craig, Stevenson (Thomson 85), Handling (Cummings 63), Collins.
Substitutes not used: Murdoch, Tudur Jones, Maybury, Caldwell.
Referee: Bobby Madden