Hibernian 0-5 Celtic

Hooper and Stokes both scored for Celtic at Easter Road
Hooper and Stokes both scored for Celtic at Easter Road

Celtic sent their fans into title party mood with an emphatic victory over Hibernian that stretches their SPL lead to 17 points over holders Rangers.

Anthony Stokes' 14th-minute close-range header and Gary Hooper's drive six minutes later put Celtic in control.

Lewis Stephenson, David Wotherspoon and Isaiah Osbourne passed up chances for Hibs before the break.

But Charlie Mulgrew curled in a free-kick, Hooper fired his second and Ki Sung-Yueng deflected in another.

The victory stretches Celtic's run of domestic victories to 18 on a weekend when city rivals Rangers lost 1-0 to Kilmarnock in their first fixture since being docked 10 points by the Scottish Premier League for going into administration.

Hibs not only suffered a blow to their confidence but a reduction in their advantage over Dunfermline Athletic in terms of goal difference, although Pat Fenlon's side remain second bottom with a game in hand.

Not even the return of striker Leigh Griffiths and defenders Paul Hanlon and James McPake from suspension, replacing Sean O'Hanlon, George Francomb and Garry O'Connor, could help counter Celtic's feelgood factor.

Thomas Rogne recovered from injury to return for Celtic in place of Daniel Majstorovic, despite the Swede's successful appeal against a red card shown last weekend.

Hooper scored the second goal for Celtic against Hibs
Hooper scored the second goal for Celtic against Hibs

Georgios Samaras dropped out to make way for Stokes to partner Gary Hooper and Celtic's top scorers came close to breaking the deadlock within a minute.

Stokes' low cross was backheeled towards goal by Hooper from six yards and, despite the effort taking a deflection off a defender, goalkeeper Graham Stack managed to change direction and scoop the ball off the line with his foot.

The home side, bolstered by five January signings, survived two early corners and started to apply pressure at the other end with a confidence that belied their league position.

However, the defensive frailty inherited by Fenlon surfaced again when neither defender nor goalkeeper came to meet Mulgrew's wicked inswinging cross and Stokes rose to head powerfully down and over the line.

Hibs continued to look lively, but they fell further behind following an incisive break.

Stokes strode towards his former club's defence before taking three Hibs defenders out the game with his pass through to an unmarked Hooper, who fired low between Stack's despairing legs from 12 yards.

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Hibs soon were handed a great opportunity to pull a goal back when Adam Matthews dallied on the ball, was dispossessed by Stephenson, but the midfielder appeared to be caught in two minds between a chip and a drive and simply lifted it straight into the arms of goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Wotherspoon failed to connect properly with a low ball flashed across the face of the Celtic goal by Osbourne, who himself headed wide when it was immediately returned into the box.

Referee Craig Thomson waved away claims for a penalty when Stokes went down under a McPake challenge, while Joe Ledley flashed a piledriver over from 22 yards and Scott Brown stung Stack's hands with a drive of his own from a similar distance.

Celtic were now well on top and Hibs suffered a further blow when defender Matt Doherty was left with a gashed eye after being struck by Stokes' flailing elbow.

Doherty did not emerge for the second half, being replaced with George Francomb, and the reorganised defence had no time to settle before Hibs went three behind two minutes after the break from Mulgrew's curling free-kick into the far corner from 22 yards.

Stack prevented another, blocking from Stokes after a clever Hooper backheel, but was at fault when the latter's speculative low drive from a difficult angle bounced over his outstretched arms and into the far corner after 52 minutes.

Griffiths poked an O'Connor cross over from close range and the latter curled a free-kick just over as Celtic appeared to ease off.

However, the visitors even had luck on their side when Kris Commons' low drive deflected off fellow substitute Ki past Stack 13 minutes from time before a Ledley header struck the underside of the bar and bounced clear.

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