Celtic maintained their five-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League today as Anthony Stokes scored twice in a 3-0 win at Hibernian. But city rivals Rangers remain doggedly in Celtic's slipstream after Slovakian international Vladimir Weiss also scored a double in a 4-0 win over bottom-side Hamilton. Rangers also have three games in hand.
Stokes moved to Celtic in August after helping Hibs to fourth place last season and his goals condemned his old club to a 12th league loss of the campaign which left them firmly in a relegation battle.
Hoops captain Scott Brown and Gary Hooper were back from injury and their presence revitalised a Celtic team which drew 1-1 at Hamilton in midweek - the in-form Stokes injury-time penalty giving them a point.
Hibs had made a bright start with David Wotherspoon heading wide from Lewis Stevenson's cross in the opening minute before Derek Riordan hit a 30-yard free-kick over. But Celtic piled on the pressure after that and Daniel Majstorovic wasted a free header from close range following Mark Wilson's free-kick.
Hooper was played through by an incisive pass from Beram Kayal and his shot drew a fine save from Mark Brown. However, Hooper converted his second chance in the 44th minute. Stokes picked out his strike partner with a clever pass and Hooper skipped past Francis Dickoh before firing home.
Neil Lennon's side increased their lead five minutes after half-time. Stevenson brought down Stokes with a rash lunge just inside the penalty area and Thomson immediately pointed to the spot. Stokes stroked home the spot-kick with ease and almost added another when he shot wide from Paddy McCourt's pass.
Then McCourt showed his trademark dribbling skill before winning a corner with a shot that Brown scrambled around the post. From the corner Stokes netted his second as he brought down Izaguirre's cross and lofted the ball into the top corner.
Weiss strikes twice for Rangers
At Ibrox, Weiss settled any nerves with a wonder strike in the 25th minute before winning a penalty which Steven Whittaker converted two minutes later. The Slovakian winger scored his second direct from a free-kick on the stroke of half-time and substitute Maurice Edu drove home a late fourth to cut the gap on Celtic.
"Although I felt we started the game well it took us a little bit to get the breakthrough but once we managed that we went on and got another couple before the break," Rangers coach Walter Smith said. "The second-half was a little bit flat but I'm obviously pleased to win."
Despite the transfer speculation surrounding his future at Ibrox Kenny Miller was restored to the starting 11 and Hamilton, without the suspended Simon Mensing and Jim McAlister, handed debuts to youngsters Michael Devlin and Lee Kilday.
Weiss opened the scoring with a cracking shot in the 25th minute. The Slovakian took a touch from Whittaker's pass before unleashing a fierce low drive which skimmed across the wet surface into the bottom corner from 25 yards out.
Just two minutes later the tricky winger won Rangers a penalty when debutant Devlin hacked him down in the box which Whittaker converted. Weiss made it 3-0 in first-half injury time straight from a free-kick 22 yards out. The Slovakian sent in a low curling ball and, distracted by Miller's run across the Hamilton defence, the ball evaded Cerny and snuck into the bottom corner.
With the points looking secure Rangers reduced the tempo in the second-half but continued to create chances. The impressive Jamie Ness fired a shot in from out wide on the left before Sasa Papac's mazy run ended in a shot which was inches wide.
It was substitute Maurice Edu who completed the rout in the 82nd minute when he allowed Whittaker's throw-in to bounce before firing a left foot strike from just inside the box. Rangers keeper Allan McGregor had been a virtual spectator throughout but pulled off a superb point-blank save two minutes from time from Flavio Paixaio's overhead kick to keep a clean sheet.
Elsewhere, Aberdeen defeated St Mirren 2-0, Motherwell and Inverness ended goalless and St Johnstone scored in injury time to seal a 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock.