Two composed finished from Stokes and Ki gave Celtic a deserved victory that also saw a Hooper penalty turned onto the post during a dominant second half performance.
It’s always interesting to see the team line up for opening match, and there was perhaps only one surprise in Neil Lennon’s first selection of the season.
Lukas Zaluska was expected to be in goal as moves to bring in another keeper continue. Full backs Mark Wilson and Emilio Izaguerre were first choice at the end of last season and new signing Kelvin Wilson made his debut. Glen Loovens got the nod beside him, instead of Daniel Majstorovic, which was probably more about fitness than form.
The rest of the side was as expected. Scott Brown’s suspension meant that Ledley, Kayal, Ki and Commons made up a strong midfield, while Hooper and Stokes were given the opportunity to recreate their partnership.
New signings Adam Matthews and Victor Wanyama had to settle for a seat on the bench, which also had plenty of attacking options, with Samaras, Maloney and Forrest all available. Keepr Cervi and Mulgrew made up the seven strong subs.
The early exchanges were scrappy, with neither side able to dominate a crowded midfield. Then on 13 minutes Commons was tripped in a wide position as he went past two defenders. The Hibs keeper failed to deal with the in swinging free kick and the ball fell to Anthony Stokes who had a tight angle at the back post. But he showed great composure to curl the ball into the roof of the net for the opening goal.
The pace dropped in the Easter Road heat (yes, really) and there was little goalmouth action in the remainder of the first half. Mark Wilson was put through on goal on 21 minutes but an incorrect offside flag stopped play before he put the ball into the net.
Neil Lennon will have been pleased to go in 1 – 0 up at half time, but would be asking for more from his players in the second half. More composure in midfield was needed to provide better service to the front two.
The second half saw more passing football and Celtic gradually upped the pace, dominating play and coming close several times. Then on 61 minutes the ball fell to Ki 22 years out and his precise low strike found the corner of the net to put Celtic two goals ahead.
Celtic continued to pour forward and Izaguirre burst into the box after a fine passing movement only to be brought down as he turned inside towards goal. It was a definite penalty, but Gary Hooper missed the resulting spot kick. His low strike was turned onto the post by a keeper who was at least two yards off his line.
James Forrest looked lively after replacing Kris Commons on the Celtic right after a hour and his pace caused a tiring Hibs defence trouble. Late substitutions saw the Celtic front two replaced by Samaras and Maloney and they played their part as Celtic controlled the last part of the game.
It was a decent second half performance from Celtic and a comfortable victory in the end. Neil Lennon will have been pleased by a clean sheet and three points from the opening game of the season, knowing that there is far more to come from his side.
Ki was my man of the match. His composure and passing allowed him to dominate in midfield, ably assisted by the always excellent Biram Kayal. Kelvin Wilson can be well pleased with his debut performance too.
So Celtic begin the league campaign with a good victory and a two point gain over their title rivals. Can’t ask for much more than that on the opening weekend of the season.