Hibernian 0 Celtic 1
A red card for Aiden McGeady provided the main talking point at Easter Road as Celtic secured a victory over Hibernian thanks to a Georgios Samaras goal.
The Greece international headed an Andreas Hinkel cross from the right past Hibs keeper Graham Stack five minutes from the break, but it was overshadowed by the dismissal of McGeady in the 62nd minute.
The Republic of Ireland international, booked in the first half for a foul on Derek Riordan, picked up a second yellow from referee Dougie McDonald, after going to ground under a challenge from Hibs defender Paul Hanlon on the touchline.
The decision outraged the Celtic bench, who were similarly upset on Wednesday night in the Champions League play-offs when they had been the victim of an apparent dive by Arsenal striker Eduardo.
The Croatian has since been charged by UEFA for ’deceiving the referee’ and could be set for a retrospective ban.
When the dust had settled and the final whistle had blown at Easter Road, Celtic manager Tony Mowbray and his side had a post-match huddle which drew cheers from a travelling support still seething at what they saw as the injustice of the McGeady decision.
But there would have been an element of relief to have at least come away with all three points.
Hibs had won three and drawn two of their last six matches against the Parkhead men in Leith so there was no surprise that they played their part in an entertaining first half in which Samaras was the main man.
There were 18 minutes on the clock when at full stretch he headed Danny Fox’s in-swinging corner from the right on to the crossbar and over.
Moments later Hoops striker Scott McDonald, linked with a move to Wigan, failed to connect properly in front of goal from another dangerous Fox corner and the Easter Road men escaped again.
Hibs ran up the park and after McGeady was booked for a foul on Riordan 25 yards out, the former Parkhead player curled his free-kick just wide.
Celtic continued to rack up the corners but there was moment of humour at the other end on the half-hour mark as Riordan miskicked somewhat comically inside the box after nutmegging Hoops skipper Gary Caldwell, the Parkhead fans having a laugh at their former striker’s expense.
Moments later, the Scotland defender had to stretch inside his own penalty are to clear a Darren McCormack cross with the Celtic fans, this time, relieved to see the ball swerve away from goal.
Caldwell was involved again in the 37th minute, at the other end, as a Shaun Maloney corner from the left inadvertently came off his knee and flew over.
The game appeared to be heading towards the interval goalless but in the 40th minute Samaras got on the end of a Hinkel cross from the right to head past Stack.
Hibs came out determined after the break and quickly pressed the visitors back in to their penalty area.
Riordan tested Artur Boruc with a close-range drive and the Celtic keeper had to claw away the resultant corner to safety before Hibs skipper Chris Hogg headed John Rankin’s next corner over the crossbar to end the spell of pressure.
In the 54th minute, with both sides enjoying the space available all over the pitch, Fox worked his way up the left wing and fired in a tempting low cross but Samaras arrived too late to reach.
Four minutes later, Kevin McBride’s long free-kick found its way to Sol Bamba at the back post but the lanky Hibs defender had to twist to get his volley away and it went wide.
Merouane Zemmama replaced Patrick Cregg just after the hour mark as Hibs tried to inject some flair into their play but then came the moment of controversy involving McGeady which left Celtic a man down with around half an hour to play.
Moments later, as the game threatened to boil over, there was more drama when Boruc was at full stretch to tip David Wotherspoon’s long-distance drive onto the post before the ball was cleared to safety.
In the 76th minute Boruc made another good save from Riordan before substitute Colin Nish, on seconds earlier for Anthony Stokes, curled an effort from the edge of the box inches over.
With four minutes remaining and Celtic rallying, Stack made a fine block from Hoops substitute Chris Killen, who had come on for Maloney.
In the final minute Stack made another fine save when he foiled Samaras as he ran through on goal in a Celtic breakaway.