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Hibernian 0 Celtic 4: Usual suspects thrive but same old routine is harsh on the hosts

THOSE who advance the case for Kris Commons to be named as Scotland's player of the year can add this latest Celtic triumph to their mountain of evidence.

Virgil van Dijk scores a curling long-range free-kick to give Celtic a commanding lead after Hibernian had threatened to cancel out Kris Commons' opening goal on several occasions. Picture: SNS
Virgil van Dijk scores a curling long-range free-kick to give Celtic a commanding lead after Hibernian had threatened to cancel out Kris Commons' opening goal on several occasions. Picture: SNS

Anyone making a competing claim on behalf of Virgil van Dijk, well, they can do exactly the same. The prolific midfielder and the elegant defender, Celtic's two outstanding performers all through this campaign, delivered the goals which moved this game out of Hibernian's reach.

No-one will advance an argument for Teemu Pukki to land any prizes but he, too, weighed in with a thunderous strike to open up a 3-0 lead which uncoupled the scoreline from an accurate reflection of the game. When Commons scored a late penalty it only poured salt on the Hibernian wounds. Celtic policed their precious unbeaten run and sequence of clean sheets, but the margin of victory was harsh on the hosts, who contributed well in the second half only to run into an immovable, Fraser Forster-shaped brick wall.

So, Commons or van Dijk for the individual prize? The question amounts to comparing a batsman and a bowler because both have entirely different attributes and responsibilities. Commons eased his total to the season to a remarkable 21; remarkable because the team's next highest scorer is Georgios Samaras on eight, and remarkable because Commons isn't an out-and-out striker and creates almost as many as he scores.

Lack of communication between the Hibernian centre-halves, Michael Nelson and Jordon Forster, got them into a mess in the seventh minute and their failure to cut out a pass to Commons had a predictable end result. He adapted his body shape expertly to place the ball emphatically past Ben Williams. For 70 minutes that was all that separated the teams. Hibernian grew into the game and offered plenty, only for Forster to prove a match for everything that came at him.

The balance of the Celtic team didn't look right in the first half. Sometimes Scott Brown was way up in attack, other times Samaras dropped so far back he was deep in his own half. Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew and Nir Biton all brought similar qualities to the midifeld, with only Commons offering penetration and menace.

In the first half, Hibernian were often undone by their own slackness. They were wasteful in possession far too often. The visitors' superior use of the ball allowed them to control most of the first 25 minutes before Hibernian did get a toehold in the game. They claimed for a penalty when James Collins cut inside van Dijk and was brought down. Collins slipped as he attacked him, which seemed to wrong-foot van Dijk. In another incident, Hibernian shouted for a penalty after a shove on Nelson.

Alex Harris then whipped over a deep cross and Nelson beat Emilio Izagguire at the back post to connect with a header, but sent it straight at Forster. There was always a little charge of electricity around the home stands when Harris got the ball, but Darnell Fisher worked hard to minimise his impact. On the one occasion Harris got totally free from the right-back, he scuffed a poor ball easily cut out by Forster.

Most of Hibernian's spark came from another young player, Sam Stanton. The 19-year-old was making his 19th appearance for the club but all the previous ones had been as a substitute. He was a busy, mobile presence behind Collins and worked himself into space to fire a couple of first half shots, one struck viciously at Forster and the other over the bar. Both of those were eclipsed after 66 minutes, when the score was only 1-0. Stanton turned smartly and unloaded a sumptuous rising shot. It was his misfortune that his technical excellence was matched by Forster's reaction, diving to touch it away with a glorious save.

Abdellah Zoubir and Collins had attempts too, but Hibernian were then buried. Nelson was harshly penalised for handball, earning him a booking and giving Celtic a free-kick 25 yards from goal where it might have suited Commons or Charlie Mulgrew. Instead van Dijk stood over it and then, with hardly any run-up, swept a majestic shot past Wiliams. For a centre-half, the level of technique to get the ball over the wall and down under the bar was absurd. Soon they had another when substitute Pukki pulled away from Jordon Forster and lashed the ball across goal to the far top corner, with Williams not reacting well enough.

Hibernian unravelled. Alan Maybury committed the sort of silly foul that would be called naive if a teenager committed it but just seemed inexplicable from a veteran. Pukki wasn't going anywhere when Maybury clattered into him. It was a clear penalty which Commons converted for a third goal in 13 minutes. By then Celtic had given Stefan Johansen the last three minutes, a debut too brief to allow any assessment of what the Norwegian will add. The only certainty is that he's been plunged into a group of players ferociously committed to protecting an unbeaten run. The sequence now has so much momentum they can deliver a rout without playing especially well.

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