THE street vendors selling Japanese headbands outside Parkhead before Celtic’s meeting with Hibernian tonight did a brisk trade.

Business is unlikely to slow down any time soon.

The relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions and the end of the rescheduled winter shutdown was always going to lead to a large and enthusiastic crowd flocking to the East End of Glasgow for this cinch Premiership match.

It has been over six weeks since Celtic fans had been inside their stadium to cheer on their team and four since they had been allowed into an away ground. They had clearly missed the experience. Every available seat in the 58,000-capacity arena was filled.  

Yet, the chance to see their new signings Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi, who manager Ange Postecoglou brought in from Japan at the start of the month, was a massive attraction too.  

Kyogo Furuhashi, who is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, has been sensational since arriving in the summer and has established himself as a huge favourite with the crowd. Would his compatriots be able to make the same sort of impact?

It did not take long to find out. Just four minutes to be exact. Maeda opened the scoring early on to set Celtic on their way to a victory that took them, at least until Rangers play Aberdeen at Pittodrie tomorrow evening, to within three points of their city rivals at the top of the table.

It was the perfect start to life at a new club in a new country for him. Hatate also impressed enormously and picked up the Man of the Match award. There would appear to be much for Celtic to look forward to in the second half of the season.   

Postecoglou made six changes from the side that took to the field against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Boxing Day; Joe Hart, Greg Taylor, Callum McGregor, James Forrest came in and Hatate and Maeda made their bows as Vasilis Barkas, Liam Scales, Nir Bitton, Stephen Welsh, James McCarthy and Furuhashi dropped out.  

Shaun Maloney, returning to the club where he spent two trophy-laden spells as a player for the first time since being appointed Hibernian manager last month, was without right back Paul McGinn and Ryan Porteous due to suspensions. He started Joe Newell and new signing Rocky Bushiri.

Martin Boyle, the Australian winger who has been the subject of much speculation and at least one failed bid during the January transfer window, got the nod, as Maloney had promised beforehand, out wide.  

The visitors should have taken the lead just three minutes after kick-off after good play by Wright, Boyle and Chris Cadden on the counter attack. The latter squared across the face of the Celtic goal and Hart was unable to intercept.

Kevin Nisbet was presented with the simplest opportunity he has had to score all season. But somehow, with an empty net beckoning invitingly, the Scotland forward contrived to hit the right post. The chance fell to him early in the game and he was perhaps a bit rusty after a lengthy lay-off. But there may not be a worse miss in 2022.

Nisbet would rue his howler just a minute or so later when his team fell behind. Josh Campbell lost the ball needlessly on the left touchline and Tom Rogic advanced into the Hibs area and fed Maeda. His new team mate had the time and space he needed to compose himself and he duly beat Matt Macey.

The former Yokohama F Marinos front man was the joint top scorer in the J League last year with 23 goals. But he clearly relished the moment. The shaven-headed front man ran away to the celebrate with the supporters and was soon mobbed by his fellow players.

The tempo shown by both teams in the early stages was frightening. But Hatate, playing alongside McGregor in the centre of the park, was comfortable on the ball and played some delightful through balls which drew gasps of admiration from the crowd. He also tested Macey with a well-taken volley.

However, it was left back Taylor who instigated the move which led to Celtic’s second of the night. From his vantage point in the middle of the Hibs half – Postecoglou likes his full-backs to push infield and upfield when play allows – he picked out Liel Abada with a chip.

The Israeli barged his way towards goal and referee Willie Collum ruled that Josh Dog had handled the ball as he did so and awarded a spot kick. Josip Juranovic stepped forward to take his fourth spot kick of the 2021/22 campaign and slotted beyond Macey to maintain his 100 per cent conversion rate.

Maloney was a highly agitated presence in the away dugout during the opening 45 minutes and gave fourth official Craig Napier a sore ear complaining about the match official’s decisions. At times, he was right to feel aggrieved. But he could have few complaints about his team trailing 2-0 at half-time. If you don’t take your chances . . .

Abada suffered a knock early in the second half when he collided with the post at a corner. But he quickly returned to the fray after receiving treatment and the home side continued to dominate. They were unfortunate not to forge further ahead given the amount of possession they had and pressure their applied to their opponents.  

Maloney put on Jamie Murphy for Campbell, James Scott for Nisbet, Lewis Stevenson for Doig, Scott Allan for Newell and Steven Bradley for Wright. Chris Cadden forced a save from Hart. But at no stage did Hibs appear capable of like pulling one back and salvaging anything from the evening.

Postecoglou made a triple substitution with 16 minutes remaining – Maeda and Hatate came off to a standing ovation along with Abada and Giorgios Giakoumakis, Ideguchi and Mikey Johnston came on.

 Jota, the Benfica loanee who has been a huge hit since moving from Portugal, received a huge cheer when he made his return from injury in the 82nd minute as a replacement for Forrest.