Larsson fills Hibs with dread

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The Independent Online

One unmistakable hairstyle rose to acclaim another, as Henrik Larsson ensured there is nothing thin on top about Celtic's new look. Two goals from the dreadlocked Swede had Billy Connolly leading the applause for his favourite team embracing poll position in the Scottish Premier League for the first time in 13 months.

One unmistakable hairstyle rose to acclaim another, as Henrik Larsson ensured there is nothing thin on top about Celtic's new look. Two goals from the dreadlocked Swede had Billy Connolly leading the applause for his favourite team embracing poll position in the Scottish Premier League for the first time in 13 months.

Celtic supporters have no need of anyone to put a smile on their faces right now, other than Martin O'Neill's players. After Larsson's double ripped the leadership from Hibernian, substitute Mark Burchill delivered the punchline in injury time, hovering to tap in an unselfish pass after Paul Lambert had breached the offside trap.

The presence of Alex Mc-Leish's team at the top of the table was no mirage, nor was it unwarranted. Five wins and a draw underlined their right to be ahead of the Old Firm, but this undoubtedly represented their greatest test.

Celtic's demolition of Rang-ers on this pitch 13 days before had imposed a carnival feeling on their fans. Since the champions had found themselves3-0 down after 11 minutes, Hibs must have glanced gratefully at the scoreboard as they passed that mark having survived dangerous incursions by Lambert and Jackie McNamara.

Lubomir Moravcik's menace is often from far out, and the midfielder illustrated why with a stinging 20-yard shot in the 14th minute which Nick Colgan pushed acrobatically over the bar. But the keeper's reactions were fatally flawed four minutes later as he gave away the penalty to give Celtic the lead.

Alan Thompson, making his debut, chased a long ball and got to the bounce before Colgan who floored the former Aston Villa player at head height. Larsson drilled his spotkick down the middle and Celtic were in command. John O'Neil almost conjured an equaliser when substitute Johan Mjallby misjudged Colgan's kick-out, but his fierce left-foot shot from the edge of the box was beaten out by Jonathan Gould.

Hibs could not reach the haven of the dressing room without further damage. In first-half stoppage time, Lambert hooked a sublime pass out to Moravcik and the Slovak's lofted cross was buried by Lar-sson's head to double the lead.

A suffocating pressing game by O'Neill's side after the break indicated they were in no mood to relinquish their advantage. Russell Latapy, Hibs' most gifted player, was denied the room to spray passes around and the most likely side to find the net was still yellow-shirted Celtic.

Thompson came close with a low, curling free-kick after Stilian Petrov was floored by Matthias Jack. The energetic Bulgarian, too, brought a brave save out of Colgan, bursting onto Larsson's sublime pass.

Colgan next prevented Lar-sson from recording his hat-trick after Chris Sutton's clever flick, and even when the Irish keeper found himself beaten, as he did in the 81st minute when Sutton spun away from him, Franck Sauzee produced an astonishing goalline save. The Hibs captain needed treatment but it was the Edinburgh club's pride that was really hurt.

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