Celtic ensured their removal from the top of the Scottish Premiership was brief with a 2-0 win over Hibernian at Parkhead. Rangers had leapfrogged the Hoops by a point with their own 2-0 victory against Motherwell at Fir Park earlier on Sunday.
But the Hoops, back to full strength after a host of players missed Thursday’s Europa League dead rubber against Cluj, responded appropriately and opened the scoring through right-back Jeremie Frimpong six minutes before the break.
French striker Odsonne Edouard doubled their lead on 66 minutes and it could have been a more comfortable victory for Neil Lennon’s side.
After his makeshift team had lost 2-0 in Romania, having already qualified for the last 32, Lennon made seven changes in a bid to take back top spot from their Old Firm rivals.
Skipper Scott Brown, Fraser Forster, Frimpong, Kris Ajer, Callum McGregor, James Forrest and Edouard all returned while Hibs boss Jack Ross kept the same starting XI that beat Aberdeen last week. In the 10th minute Hibs ’keeper Ofir Marciano saved well from Olivier Ntcham after fellow midfielder McGregor set him up.
At the other end, Celtic defender Ajer’s tackle thwarted Jason Naismith 10 yards from goal after he latched on to a Stevie Mallan pass, before Martin Boyle jinked inside and curled a right-footed drive inches wide. Edouard was off target from 16 yards after being teed up by Frimpong, then the Frenchman drove wide again – before Marciano made two saves from McGregor.
Celtic left-back Boli Bolingoli went close from the edge of the box before the opener arrived in the 39th minute. Hibs defender Ryan Porteous sloppily lost possession to Edouard, who rolled the ball to Frimpong, and the 19-year-old Dutch defender slipped it through the legs of Marciano for his first goal at Celtic Park since signing from Manchester City.
After the break, McGregor screwed a shot just wide and Edouard blazed over from close range before Edouard was set up by Forrest for the second goal.
Earlier on Sunday, Alfredo Morelos sealed Rangers’ 2-0 win over Motherwell before being sent off for two bookable offences. The Colombian followed up Nikola Katic’s first-half opener when he fired home his 27th goal of the season midway through the second half.
But the striker – sent off five times last season – let his emotions get the better of him as he aimed an inflammatory gesture at the home support during his celebrations and was punished with a second yellow card.
“There had been a bit of a commotion at half-time between both sets of players, although there wasn’t much in it,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard said. “However, when I saw the referee book Ryan Jack and Declan Gallagher before the start of the second half (for their part in it), I thought that he was waiting for a moment.
“We have no complaints about the red card but I felt he was desperate to give out a red card today … Alfredo was unplayable. It is a setback today, he knows that, we know that. I’m sure he hates getting punished in the pocket so hopefully he will get back on the horse and continue to improve in that area.”