James Forrest took his tally of Celtic goals to 100 with a hat-trick in the demolition of Hibernian. The 31-year-old Scotland winger has dropped down the pecking order at Parkhead but in his first start of the season he scored either side of a Giorgos Giakoumakis strike to give the league leaders a commanding interval lead.
Half-time substitute Elie Youan pulled a goal back in the 56th minute for the visitors before Forrest, who came through the ranks at Celtic, completed his hat-trick two minutes later with further goals from Giakoumakis and substitute Daizen Maeda underlining Celtic’s superiority.
Celtic are struggling for points in the Champions League – they have one after four group games – but they remain the team to beat domestically and moved five points ahead of second-placed Rangers who play Motherwell at Fir Park on Sunday.
The typical early Parkhead onslaught brought rewards in the eighth minute when Sead Haksabanovic’s cross from the left was met by Forrest and he knocked a volley back across and in at the far post.
Celtic were in rampant mood and went further ahead in the 18th minute when Bernabei’s cross was buried from 10 yards by Giakoumakis.
The third goal followed six minute later when Haksabanovic’s cut-back ended up at the feet of Forrest, who took a touch and fired in a decent shot Marshall saved, only to let it fumble out of his grasp and over the line.
Midfielder Reo Hatate had the ball in the Hibs net just before the break but the offside flag was already up while a penalty claim, when the Hibs defender Ryan Porteous, challenged Giakoumakis was ignored by the referee, Steven McLean.
Lee Johnson, unimpressed by his side’s performance, made four interval changes with Rocky Bushiri, Marijan Cabraja, Kyle Magennis and Youan on for Chris Cadden, Stevenson, McKirdy and Mykola Kuharevich. Haksabanovic was replaced by Maeda, which meant little respite for the visitors on the left.
However, seconds after Bushiri had blocked a goal-bound shot from Forrest, Hibs raced up the park with Martin Boyle playing in Youan to beat Joe Hart at his near post with a powerful drive.
Any notions of a comeback were soon dispelled when Mooy took advantage of a Nohan Kenneh mistake in midfield to play in Forrest whose deflected shot from 16 yards sped high past Marshall.
Forrest was soon replaced by Liel Abada with Oliver Abildgaard on for Matt O’Riley.
Hibs came near on a couple of occasions – Boyle’s shot that went just past the post was especially close and Abada’s cut-back found Giakoumakis, who hit the post.
Substitute Kyogo Furuhashi, on for Hatate, rattled the Hibs post with a drive from just inside the area, and Marshall saved a one-on-one against Abada, before Maeda converted a Mooy cross for number six in the 89th minute, to seal a comprehensive win.
Johnson said: “We can’t accept that standard mentally and it’s going to be a tough week for us.”
Ange Postecoglou saved special praise for Forrest “Quite significant. Firstly for James,” he said. “He joins an elite club and I keep saying to the boys your career is defined by the things that last. Not the money you make or the personal accolades you may have along the way.”