Hibs secured their first victory at Celtic Park for 13 years as they dealt their hosts a blow in the race for the SPL title, while at the same time boosted their own hopes of a third-placed finish and European football.
Celtic had secured victory at Ibrox six days previously to extend the gap at the top of the table to five points and they were looking to make that eight with Rangers not playing until the following day.
However, the home support’s sense of expectation was tainted by a certain unease even before kick-off, with the news that Craig Bellamy, Chris Sutton and Didier Agathe were all missing.
Even so, few Celtic fans would have expected to see their side go behind for the third home match in a row, as Hibs followed the recent examples of Aberdeen and Hearts by snatching an early lead.
Striker Derek Riordan started the move with a clever back-heel deep in his own half to send Scott Brown down the left wing where he found the overlapping Garry O’Connor on the edge of the box. O’Connor still had plenty to do, but he cut inside Stanislav Varga with ease and then drilled a low shot past goalkeeper David Marshall from just inside the box in the seventh minute.
Defender Bobo Balde squandered a glorious opportunity to level in the 18th minute after Steven Whittaker had conceded a free-kick for a clumsy foul on Joos Valgaeren.
Alan Thompson swung in the cross and the Hibs defence gave the defender a free header, but Balde completely missed the ball.
The visitors looked threatening on the break and Antonio Murray tested Marshall with a low drive in the 29th minute, but the youngster saved comfortably under pressure.
Celtic were given a let off at the start of the second half when Amadou Konte got behind the home defence and his left-foot shot was deflected just wide of defender Valgaeren.
Moments later the home side had Marshall to thank for denying the visitors a second goal after Neil Lennon had gifted away possession.
Riordan seized on the ball and tried to lob the keeper from outside the box, but he leapt and threw his hand up to touch the ball just past the upright.
There was a surprise when Celtic hauled themselves level thanks to Craig Beattie on the hour. Stilian Petrov clipped the ball into the box following a short corner from Thompson and the striker pounced on Varga’s knockdown to drive a right-foot volley past Simon Brown from six yards.
The Hibs goalkeeper would soon have a chance to redeem himself, however, as he dived to his left to brilliantly stop a glancing header from John Hartson that had seemed almost certain to give the home team the lead. That would allow Brown to recover his confidence after an earlier blunder, when he dropped the ball from Thompson’s corner and gifted Balde a golden opportunity, but he pulled a low shot wide.
Substitute Ivan Sproule became the hero with 11 minutes remaining, when he pounced on fellow replacement Sam Morrow’s through ball to fire under the body of Marshall before Morrow, on for O’Connor a minute earlier, was booked for celebrating.
The onus was on Celtic to push for an equaliser, but the visitors grabbed another to seal the win as Brown took Murray’s long ball in his path and coolly chipped Marshall to spark wild celebrations.
Hibs: Brown, Whittaker, Murray, Caldwell, Smith, Brown, Murray, Glass, Riordan, O’Connor, Konte.