The last time Hibernian came to Parkhead, they were undone by Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, who scored on his debut. The Dutchman was missing yesterday because of a petty red card shown to him after celebrating his late winner at Inverness recently, but his stand-in, Craig Beattie, proved a perfect replacement.
Beattie made sure after his decisive 54th-minute header that he stayed on the pitch and his goal kept Celtic on course for a lustier celebration, next month. Gordon Strachan's side are just four wins away from their fifth title in seven seasons but Hibernian pushed them all the way.
The return of John Collins to Parkhead lent some intrigue. The former Scotland player became Celtic's first £1 million signing when he moved in 1990 from Hibernian before leaving for the riches of Monaco and the Premiership. It was Collins' first visit to his alma mater since taking over as the Hibernian manager in November. He has exceeded expectations, guiding the Edinburgh side to the League Cup final, and the skill, flair and drama which have laced meetings between these two sides in recent years led Gordon Strachan to call this one of Britain's matches of the day.
A goalless first half might have hinted that Strachan's optimism was misplaced but the truth behind that statistic was a flowing contest. Kenny Miller came close to scoring against his former side with a diving header in the fourth minute and Guillaume Beuzelin almost undid the hosts, dragging his effort just wide.
The recent addition of Paul Hartley by Strachan has added drive and zest to Celtic's midfield and the former Hearts player threatened to break the deadlock until Chris Hogg's vigilant tackle. Beattie then drew a save from Andrew McNeil, the teenage Hibernian goalkeeper, before the Celtic forward clipped another header just over the bar from Lee Naylor's fine cross.
However, Hibernian ended the half with a threat of their own as Beuzelin and then Sean Lynch both conjured up shots that Artur Boruc acrobatically saved. Celtic sensed Hibs' threat especially with the arrival of the pacy Ivan Sproule at half-time for Michael Stewart and lifted their tempo in the second half.
The early siege paid off when Beattie broke the deadlock. The striker owed a huge debt of gratitude to Aiden McGeady, whose trickery turned Kevin McCann inside out before picking out a cross that was met by Beattie's run for the forward to thump a firm header past McNeil. Hibernian might have restored parity with 17 minutes left when Stephen McManus, the Celtic defender, missed Steven Fletcher's cross and Sproule was poised to score until Naylor's lunge.
That pair would come together in the 86th minute in fateful fashion for the Hibernian substitute. Sproule came in with his studs up and caught Naylor's back. The tackle incensed Strachan, who came on to the pitch, and Sproule left just as quickly, the recipient of a red card.