Hearts 1 - 3 Celtic: Jambos can't halt Hoops' title charge
The result means Aberdeen can only draw level with Celtic on points at the top of the table, but the Glasgow club carry a vastly superior goal difference. Hearts, having played within themselves in the first half, struck a deserved equaliser after the interval but then gifted Celtic three points with some erratic defending.
Hearts entered this fixture without a win in their last 14 meetings with Celtic, dating back to the 2012 Scottish Cup final. They were without Igor Rossi due to a knock, whilst Callum Paterson was left on the substitutes’ bench. Juwon Oshaniwa, red carded at Parkhead four weeks ago, played from the start in a left wing-back role.
Celtic’s 4-3-3 formation showed plenty attacking intent and they had the ball in the net on 12 minutes. Callum McGregor followed up when Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander parried Roberts’ shot, however the midfielder was judged offside. Television replays proved that was the wrong decision. Seconds later, Alexander produced a vital double save to stop efforts from Roberts and Griffiths.
The sense that Celtic were increasing the tempo was confirmed when they moved ahead on 17 minutes. Mikael Lustig charged forward on the right to take a pass from McGregor. With Oshaniwa posted missing, the Swede had time to hang a cross up at the back post. Kazim-Richards showed fine composure to chest the ball down, evade marker Don Cowie and drill a low finish beyond Alexander.
The first real test for Craig Gordon in the visitors’ goal came from Jamie Walker’s first-time shot following Arnaud Djoum’s low cutback in the 20th minute. The keeper was up to the task, and also parried Juanma’s rebound attempt from an offside position.
The game remained fairly even towards the interval, with tackles and individual battles raging on all over the field. Griffiths should have scored a second when through on goal five minutes before the break. Djoum’s shot at the Celtic goal was charged down by Nir Bitton and the ricochet took the ball spinning into the Hearts half. With an exquisite first touch, Griffiths nudged it clear of any defenders to home in on Alexander but the goalkeeper emerged to deflected his shot behind for a corner.
Paterson and Dauda were introduced at half-time by the Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson. That involved a change of formation from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2. Within minutes, Djoum drove forward from midfield and dispatched a shot which Gordon pushed behind at full stretch. Further efforts from John Souttar and Dauda hinted at the hosts seizing a better grip of the game.
Just before the hour mark, Dauda produced a stunning equaliser. Walker robbed Brown in midfield and fed the striker, who set off on a solo run from around 40 yards out. He held off several challenges to stay on his feet and evade opponents. When he reached the edge of the box, he rifled a low right-footed shot low into Gordon’s net.
The game erupted in controversy on 63 minutes. Kazim-Richards challenged Oshaniwa, who was grounded and appeared to take a stud in the head from his opponent. Referee Alan Muir chose to book the Celtic forward. Minutes later the visitors were gifted a second goal as Hearts’ defending cost them dear.
Ozturk’s high clearance was headed back to Souttar by Perry Kitchen, but Roberts nipped in ahead of the young centre-back. The winger was through on goal and stroked a composed finish through Alexander to restore his team’s advantage.
Falling behind again killed Hearts’ momentum. They continued to try to play football from defence but were constantly closed down by the Celtic forwards. Griffiths charged a Souttar clearance with five minutes remaining to earn himself a goal and seal his team’s triumph. He collected the loose ball on the right and cut inside for a precise low shot into the net.
Hearts (3-5-2): Alexander; Souttar, Ozturk, Augustyn; Cowie, Buaben, Kitchen, Djoum, Oshaniwa; Walker, Juanma.
46: Paterson for Augustyn
46: Dauda for Cowie
77: Nicholson for Buaben
Unused subs: Hamilton, Pallardo, Reilly, McGhee.
Celtic (4-3-3): Gordon; Lustig, Ambrose, Sviatchenko, Tierney; McGregor, Brown, Bitton; Roberts, Griffiths, Kazim-Richards.
69: Rogic for Roberts
86: Armstrong for Griffiths
90: Commons for Brown
Unused subs: Bailly, Izaguirre, Christie, Janko.
Referee: Alan Muir.