Walter Smith was left to rue an afternoon of missed opportunities yesterday after his Rangers side dominated their game with Aberdeen at Pittodrie but could only draw 0-0 and therefore passed up the chance to move top of the SPL, if only for a few hours.
Thus Celtic started their own game at home against Hibernian not in arrears in the table and under pressure but a point ahead, and the subsequent 3-1 win for Gordon Strachan's team leaves them four points clear of Rangers this morning.
Smith defended his decision to start with his leading scorer, Kris Boyd, on the bench by arguing that Aberdeen were a threat and therefore Boyd's place had been taken by an extra midfielder, Lee McCulloch, to add cover. But even when Boyd came on for the last half an hour, and Aberdeen were vulnerable because their goalkeeper, Jamie Langfield, had been substitutedwith a head injury, Rangers could not score. Langfield needed stitches for a cut to his mouth after an accidental collision with the Rangers striker Kenny Miller.
"I don't think it was detrimental to the way we played," said Smith of leaving Boyd out. "I felt it was a worthwhile change today, and with the way the game eventually went I felt it was the correct one.
"But that's just the life of a manager.I don't think there is any doubt that we did enough to win the game. I thought we played very well today and dominated most of the possession. We didn't take the two best opportunities that came our way. It's obviously disappointing not to take three points away from a game that we largely dominated."
Aberdeen's Jimmy Calderwood said: "I'm very pleased with the point as Rangers caused us problems with their system and personnel. I don't think we really got into the game and we seemed half a yard off the pace."
Celtic took a 2-0 lead against Hibs within 10 minutes through Scott McDonald and Stephen McManus when Hibs twice failed to clear corners and were punished with tap-ins. Rob Jones, the Hibs captain, pulled a goal back for the visitors but McDonald scored again to give Celtic breathing space and ultimately the three points that opens up clear water again in the table.
Elsewhere in the SPL, Dundee United and Hearts both secured 3-2 home wins in rollercoaster games to leapfrog Aberdeen, who find themselves demoted from third to fifth despite yesterday's point. Dundee United came from behind to beat St Mirren while Hearts saw off the challenge of managerless Inverness.