Celtic 4, Hearts 0: Jam Tarts crumble against leaders

Callum McGregor celebrates scoring the opening goal for Celtic
Callum McGregor celebrates scoring the opening goal for Celtic
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Hearts suffered a comprehensive defeat at Parkhead as Celtic set a new club record by stretching their unbeaten domestic start to the campaign to 27 matches.

The struggling Tynecastle side rarely threatened in Glasgow’s east end as they were swatted aside with relative ease, albeit the runaway league leaders only made the game safe with three goals in the last 12 minutes.

Hearts have now won just one of their last seven league games since Robbie Neilson left for MK Dons two months ago and are ahead of fifth-place St Johnstone only on goal difference.

Head coach Ian Cathro made three changes to the side that edged out Raith Rovers in Wednesday’s Scottish Cup replay as Sam Nicholson, Don Cowie and Liam Smith came in for Andraz Struna, Prince Buaben and Rory Currie, who all missed out through a combination of illness and fitness issues. Krystian Nowak also remained on the sidelines. New signings Dylan Bikey and Mohammed El Ouriachi Choulay were listed among the substitutes.

The Tynecastle side, who hadn’t won in their previous 11 visits to Parkhead, could take some solace from the fact their hosts were without their two main strikers, Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths, while the influential Stuart Armstrong pulled out through injury just before kick-off.

After a low-key start in which Hearts looked fairly comfortable, the hosts made the breakthrough on the half hour when Scott Sinclair received a pass from Scott Brown wide on the left, then slipped the ball inside for Callum McGregor, who took a touch before steering a left-footed shot in off Jack Hamilton’s left-hand post from 15 yards out.

In a game of few clear openings at either end, Hearts’ best chance of an equaliser came in the 72nd minute when Malaury Martin latched on to a through pass from Choulay but the Frenchman was crowded out by Celtic players and eventually saw his shot from just inside the box blocked by ex-Tynecastle goalkeeper Craig Gordon.

Celtic put daylight between the teams in the 78th minute when Sinclair forced the ball over the line from a yard out after Aaron Hughes almost knocked a Kieran Tierney cross into this own net.

Tierney was the provider again two minutes later as the left-back cut the ball back for Patrick Roberts to fire high past Hamilton from seven yards out.

Hearts’ misery was compounded with three minutes left when John Souttar was stretchered off. And, with the visitors down to ten men after having used all their subs, Sinclair completed a comfortable home victory with a stoppage-time penalty after Lennard Sowah tripped substitute Jack Aitchison.

Celtic: Gordon, Gamboa (Lustig 79), Boyata, Simunovic, Tierney, Bitton, Brown, McGregor, Roberts (Aitchison 81), Sinclair, Forrest (Henderson 66). Subs: De Vries, Mackay-Steven, Sviatchenko.

Hearts: Hamilton, Smith, Souttar, Hughes, Sowah, Nicholson (Choulay 58), Cowie, Kitchen (Beith 80), Martin (Sammon 79), Walker, Johnsen. Subs: Noring, Oshaniwa, Bikey, Zanatta.

Referee: Bobby Madden