THERE must be something good in the air being breathed around Lennoxtown on these chill January mornings.
Scott McDonald came down to sea level to grab a double against Hibs in Celtic's 3-1 victory to shoot them four points clear in the SPL race once again. ONE BY ONE By Darrell King
BORUC Struggling Clearly nowhere near the high standards he has set for himself. This was summed up by the fact he really only had one moment of major danger to deal with, Derek Riordan's cross for Hibs goal. But he was hesitant and unconvincing.
HINKEL Better The German used his natural speed to get up and down the flank and support Nakamura. Going forward he looks good, but what about defensively?
McMANUS Troubled Not so much by the Hibs strikeforce but more by what looks like some kind of on-going knee injury that forced him off. Still provided a neat finish for second goal.
CALDWELL Steady Probably expected a harder time against the likes of Nish and Fletcher. Like McManus, posted missing at cross for goal but then steadied himself and mopped up any hints of Hibs forays.
NAYLOR Okay Never under any pressure defensively, but incurred the wrath of his boss in the second half for some bad choices on the ball. £8m to replace him? I don't think so.
NAKAMURA Excellent Now into the run-in in terms of his last appearance at Parkhead - and more of this will leave the fans delighted. Superb delivery, great work ethic. Just a clever footballer.
BROWN Energetic Another buzz-bomb first half when he was popping up everywhere. Not as effective second half but remains the driving force in Celtic team.
CROSAS Improving Still looks as though he needs games which is natural given his lengthy injury lay-off. Composed on the ball, but not moving the ball forward as quickly as he was before hamstring problem.
McGEADY Terrific Proved just why it was so important to sort out the rift with Strachan. His turns, dribbling and crosses into the box lit up the game. Edging back to form of last term.
McDONALD Clinical As he proved last season, the Aussie is hard to stop when he gets on a goals run - and it now looks as though he's on one. Double came courtesy of two superb finishes.
HESSELINK Laboured One of the manager's favourites but, for me, the big Dutchman offers little. Threat in the air, yes. But nowhere near as mobile as Samaras.
ROBSON Busy Came off the bench and put in his usual shift.
LOOVENS Solid Stepped in for McManus and put in some good tackles.
SAMARAS Frustrated Doesn't look happy at being benched and getting last 10 minutes.
STRACHAN Content Watched his side take full advantage of Rangers slip-up and would have been pleased with some of the football. But defence that has shipped eight goals in four games needs worked on.
Meanwhile, the American who trained alongside the Aussie in the Campsies last week, Sacha Kljestan, was going one better.
The midfielder banged in a hat-trick for the good old U.S of A in their friendly international win over Sweden at the quaintly-named Home Depot Stadium in Los Angeles, having taken just a day to recover from the long-haul flight home.
Kljestan may spend a little longer up in the clouds after his goal-laden homecoming.
But the clever money is on the news winging its way to him from Celtic going some way towards bringing him back down to earth with a bump as the asking price being quoted by the MLS for the signature of the Chivas US 23-year-old looks to be a little rich for the SPL champions at this time.
So the talent search is expected to revert closer to home again with Dundee United's Irish midfielder Willo Flood a much more attainable target as his contract situation decrees he carries a price tag amounting to around 20 per cent of that hung around the neck of Kljestan.
That does not mean Flood is only a fifth the player of the American.
His performances during his season-and-a-half on loan to United - particularly in games against the Old Firm - have shown his real value.
It is merely an indication of the significance of contract length and of different markets.
Kljestan is securely tied up by the MLS, Flood has only a few months of his contract with Cardiff left to run.
And, on the back of his international success at the weekend, Kljestan's price is likely to be rising at the same rate as the interest in him from clubs across Europe.
However, Celtic have proved that you neither need to spend millions nor look far to unearth talent which can prove invaluable to your team.
Striker McDonald continues to underline that very point.
His double at the weekend took his tally since making the short trip along the motorway from Motherwell in a £700,000 move 18 months ago to 42 in 74 starts. His return to the goal standard could not be better timed.
On current defensive form, Celtic need to have their hitmen striking.
The scoring contribution from others, including Scott Brown in recent matches and Stephen McManus against Hibs, is most welcome.
But McDonald, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Georgios Samaras are employed ostensibly to put the ball in the net.
And, while the defence continues to find it impossible to keep a clean sheet - another cheap goal from a simple free kick lobbed between the defensive line and Artur Boruc allowed Rob Jones to head home and make it 2-1 - the nerves of this team can only be kept at bay by a steady fix of goals at the other end.
Strachan admitted: "When they scored, a bit of negativity joins in and it gave Hibs hope from nowhere, and I mean nowhere.
"Until we get that sorted out, every team who gets a free kick 40 or 50 yards from our goal will want to test us.
"But those defensive moments apart, I can't really ask my players to do any more than they have done in the last two games."
In that 180 minutes, the fans have watched the ball hit the net 10 times, on five occasions giving the Celtic supporters cause to celebrate, on five occasions reason to wonder what on earth their heroes practise between games.
At the weekend, all ended well as Hibs' defending was even more shoolboyish than that displayed by Celtic when they allowed Derek Riordan to find Jones with his free kick.
Last weekend, it was another ex-Celt, Charlie Mulgrew, whose delivery embarrassed his former team-mates.
Perhaps it's just as well Dundee United won't be able to call upon any former Parkhead players at Hampden in midweek, though they do have one, perhaps two, who are heading the other way.
Keeper Lukasz Zaluska and Flood will have to be at their best to combat Celtic's form men, McDonald, Scott Brown and Aiden McGeady.
The errant wide midfielder received deserved and heart-felt praise from Strachan after his performance at the weekend when he made the most of Mixu Paatelainen's decision to deploy inexperienced youngster Darren McCormack at right back.
It was no coincidence Celtic's opening goals came from corners earned on that side, knocked in by McDonald and McManus after initial efforts were saved and blocked.
The third goal was a much better goal aesthetically, started by a sublime lob from Nakamura to Brown, and finished by McDonald with the air of a man who has rediscovered his self-belief.
He has only to carry it a short distance to Hampden on Wednesday.
But it could be the most important thing Celtic take with them. NEED TO KNOW
Was it a good game? Celtic's whirlwind start, during which they blew away Hibs to lead 2-0 inside nine minutes, threatened to make it a one-sided affair. But again, sloppy defending at a set-piece allowed Hibs back into it. Had the Edinburgh side shown more willingness to send men forward, they could have asked serious questions of a shaky home side. As it was, Celtic regained their composure, should have been more than 2-1 up at the interval, and scored an excellent clincher 14 minutes from time.
Who was Celtic's best player? Aiden McGeady gets the plaudits for a display in which he terrorised full back Darren McCormack.
And Hibs' top performer? They had keeper Grzegorz Szamotulski to thank for avoiding a heavier defeat.
What about the ref? David Somers looked a bit overwhelmed at times and waved away a good penalty claim when McGeady was brought down in the second half.
Who's up next? Gordon Strachan takes his side to Hampden on Wednesday to face Dundee United in the Co-operative Insurance League Cup semi-final.