Celtic have scored eight in their opening two league matches, but Tony Mowbray’s side passed their first serious examination of the domestic season with a 1-0 win over Hibernian at Easter Road on Sunday.
Leith has hardly been a happy hunting ground in recent seasons, with Celtic winning just one of their last six games there, but despite going down to 10 men after Aiden McGeady was controversially sent off, Celtic battled for the victory and took all three points.
That win was sealed by a Georgios Samaras strike, but Celtic’s steel was also evident, with the players defending courageously in the closing stages.
Tony Mowbray was forced to make a couple of changes to his starting XI, with Marc-Antoine Fortune out injured and replaced by Samaras and Landry NGuemo taking Massimo Donati’s place in the centre of midfield.
After a brief interruption, with Samaras going down injured within seconds of kick-off, play soon escalated to the somewhat frantic pace that has become the norm in such meetings in Edinburgh.
A couple of inviting crosses were fired into both penalty areas, but it took until the 12th minute before McGeady got the first clear sight of goal, disappointingly blasting his shot over.
Celtic soon enjoyed another glorious chance when Danny Fox swung in a wicked corner that Samaras sent crashing off the crossbar.
Scott McDonald was next to find space, failing to connect with a volley at the back post, but from this move the home side countered. McGeady brought down Derek Riordan, earning a yellow card, but Riordan sent his free kick just wide.
With their pace up front, Hibs were always going to be a threat on the counter-attack and minutes later, Artur Boruc was forced to parry a dangerously looking cross on the edge of his six-yard box, which was then hooked away by Shaun Maloney.
Then, on the half hour mark, Maloney had the ball in the back of the net, only for the referee to harshly rule that Samaras had climbed over Chris Hogg to win the header.
This was not the first peculiar decision that Dougie McDonald would make in this match, with the official failing to book Souleymane Bamba for a cynical foul on McGeady.
There were further chances for Tony Mowbray’s men, with Maloney heading a Scott Brown cross wide, Glenn Loovens almost turning in a Fox corner and Caldwell next to come close after a corner from Maloney.
Then, with half-time just four minutes away, Celtic’s persistence paid dividends.
The move started with a quick interchange in midfield, which saw NGuemo slide the ball out to Andy Hinkel on the right. He lifted in a perfect cross was met in the air by Samaras, who bulleted home his header.
Celtic went in at half-time a goal ahead and with signs of frustration creeping into the Hibs ranks and particularly evident in Anthony Stokes and Patrick Cregg, the latter of whom was booked for a late challenge on McDonald.
The home side came out for the second half with a flurry of chances and Boruc did well to block a Riordan shot and then a corner that was swung in to the back post by the Hibs striker.
However, Celtic were quick to respond with Fox playing in another great ball from the left which Samaras came within a whisker of reaching at full stretch.
However, this open, entertaining match was overshadowed by a moment of controversy, with the referee showing McGeady a second yellow card for diving although the linesman standing right beside the incident had raised his flag and signaled that the Celtic winger had been fouled by Paul Hanlon.
The Hoops now faced a tense 25 minutes with a one-goal lead and just ten men on the park and David Wotherspoon signaled Hibs’ intent with a dipping shot from 30 yards that Boruc somehow reached and touched onto the post.
This was not the first time that Boruc would save Celtic and he soon followed this with another brilliant stop, touching the ball away at the far post.
But despite this, Celtic were still causing Hibs problems, with a lovely ball over the top by Hinkel freeing Paul Caddis and allowing him to play a cutback to Killen, whose shot forced a great save from Graham Stack.
With minutes remaining, Samaras also failed to beat the keeper after a sweeping counter-attack. Seconds later there was a melee in the Celtic box which almost allowed Hibs to equalize.
The final whistle then sounded with Boruc making another save to deny Bamba. In many ways it was a fitting finish, marked by attacking flair and heroic defending.
This was an excellent win for a Celtic side who are still taking shape under the new manager and its relevance was recognized, with Tony Mowbray gathering his players in a huddle in the middle of the park to rapturous applause from the traveling Celtic support.
Celtic's Europa League Draw
Celtic will face FC Hamburg of Germany, Israeli side Hapoel Tel-Aviv and old foes Rapid Vienna of Austria in the group stages of the Europa League.
The four teams have been put together in Group C in the draw which was made in Monaco last week, with the first game scheduled for September 17.