Hell hath no fury like a team scorned. Accused of being poor losers by Hibernian after their last meeting, Celtic did what they do best yesterday: win with ruthless purpose. Punishment was meted out at Parkhead by Martin O'Neill's side, who warmed up for the visit next Saturday of Rangers with a 17th straight win in 18 Scottish Premier League games. That opened up an 11-point gap over the champions - who travel to Dundee today - and maintained Celtic's unerring pursuit of the title that eluded them on goal difference last May.
Celtic did not just have the pursuit of their League record on their minds. There was also the little matter of revenge. Hibernian had ruined their unblemished domestic record just before Christmas by knocking them out of the Scottish League Cup with a courageous and robust display.
However, Bobby Williamson's young side were given no chance to establish a foothold in this contest. It took only three minutes for Celtic's hunger to pay off, as Chris Sutton plundered his 18th goal of the season by finishing off a flowing move. Stilian Petrov's pass was gathered by the former England striker, who exchanged passes with John Hartson and advanced into the box before coolly steering a right- foot shot wide of the goalkeeper, Daniel Andersson, from 14 yards.
However, Hibernian, as befits a side with four teenagers, are blessed with little fear and great pace. A swift counterattack seven minutes later almost produced an equaliser when Tom McManus met Garry O'Connor's cross with an overhead kick that flew narrowly over the bar. McManus got a further glimpse of goal when Derek Riordan hoisted a ball over Bobo Balde for McManus to take superbly on the run with a deft touch. Only the lunge of Johan Mjallby denied the striker's netbound shot.
Celtic knew they were in a battle. They tried to counter with another goal, Sutton flashing a 30-yard shot just wide, but then introduced muscle to the equation, with Mjallby and Alan Thompson booked in quick succession when each sorted out the precocious midfielder Scott Brown. From the latter situation, Steven Whittaker swung over a free-kick that O'Connor threaded out to Riordan, whose fierce shot was acrobatically pushed over the bar by the goalkeeper, Robert Douglas.
Sutton, though, had eyes only for goal. Just after the half-hour, his driving run into the box included a neat one-two with Henrik Larsson before he swept a shot into the net - but it was correctly disallowed as Hartson had strayed offside.
However, the increasing needle between the sides erupted in ugliness three minutes before the interval when Riordan threw himself into Jackie McNamara and felled the Scotland player with a dreadful scythe that saw the teenager shown an instant red card. Before Hibernian could reach the haven of the dressing room, Celtic profited by scoring their second goal. Petrov's short corner found Thompson, whose accurate cross was thumped past Andersson by the head of Hartson.
Not surprisingly, Hibernian opted for a policy of damage limitation in the second half. Sadly for Williamson, it failed spectacularly as Celtic's hunger was satsfied with a regular diet of goals. Sutton collected his own second goal when Larsson's pace exposed Colin Murdock, prompting the defender to bring him down in the box. The prolific Swede recently gave penalty duties to Sutton and the latter showed why, a cheeky chip down the middle tricking Andersson.
Hartson soon followed suit. Seven minutes later, the Welshman was the beneficiary of Larsson's unselfishness after he had robbed Mathias Doumbe and drawn Murdock before supplying Hartson with a cutback that was ruthlessly swept in by his partner's right boot.
It was only fitting that Larsson got on the scoresheet. He made it 5-0 by gathering a fine pass from midfield by Liam Miller and curling an exquisite right-foot shot beyond Andersson's dive. The bemused goalkeeper conceded a sixth 13 minutes from the end, as Petrov finished a flowing move that he began - with Larsson, Sutton and Neil Lennon adding their contribution - before delivering a clever angled flick over Andersson.
Celtic 6 Hibernian 0
Sutton 3, pen 54, Hartson 45, 60, Larsson 66, Petrov 77
Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 59,609