Debut for promising Hearts teenager as Celtic all but seal Premiership title
Hearts suffered the familiar feeling of defeat in Glasgow’s east end as Celtic all but secured the Scottish Premiership title.
Not since 2007 have the Edinburgh club won a league fixture at Celtic Park, a wait that will continue into next season following this Saturday lunchtime encounter.
Despite Ellis Simms giving Hearts an early lead, the hosts were 2-1 ahead by half-time thanks to Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi. Matt O’Riley scored their third just after the midway point of the second half to guarantee victory before substitute Giorgos Giakoumakis added a fourth.
The three points means Celtic are just one point away from officially being crowned champions for season 2021/22. A superior goal difference over second-placed Rangers ensures they are unlikely to be overtaken.
With three league games left before the Scottish Cup final, Hearts were still nursing some influential players back from injury ahead of this trip west. They shunted Toby Sibbick from defence into midfield for this match as captain Craig Gordon made his 250th appearance for the club.
They also handed 18-year-old forward Murray Thomas a debut in the final minutes. He is part of Riccarton’s under-18 squad under Steven Naismith.
They competed in spells and created some decent scoring opportunities throughout the 90 minutes. They also had a right to feel aggrieved at Maeda’s equaliser given Sibbick was impeded by Callum McGregor while in possession moments beforehand.
Ultimately, Celtic were simply too strong. Their 4-3-3 formation included a first start since December for David Turnbull following the midfielder’s recovery from hamstring damage. The first thing the hosts had to do was recover from an early setback when Simms broke the deadlock.
Liam Boyce flicked a deflected cross into the Englishman’s path for a touch, spin and clinical finish beyond Joe Hart. Appeals for offside were ignored and the goal stood.
Gordon saved low attempts from Turnbull and Kyogo before Celtic levelled after half an hour. McGregor appeared to foul Sibbick with a challenge inside home territory but referee Don Robertson allowed play to continue. Following a quick break, Jota crossed for Maeda to stroke the ball into the net from around 14 yards.
The hosts forced a second goal eight minutes before the interval as O’Riley’s cross from the left was nodded downwards by Jota at the back post. The lively Kyogo glanced the ball up and just over the line before Gordon could claw it out, as confirmed by television replays.
Stephen Kingsley cleared almost on his own goal line as Maeda tried to convert Kyogo’s cross early in the second period. Hearts were ceding possession cheaply at that stage which invited their opponents to build concerted pressure on Gordon’s goal. Inevitably, it resulted in the game being put beyond them.
O’Riley found himself in space at the far post to control Greg Taylor’s cross and place the ball into the bottom corner of the net despite Gordon's flailing dive. And 3-1 became 4-1 when substitute James Forrest crossed for fellow replacement Giakoumakis to drive the ball home.
Celtic (4-3-3): Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; Turnbull (Hatate 64), McGregor, O’Riley (Rogic 77); Jota (Forrest 80), Kyogo (Giakoumakis 64), Maeda (Abada 64).
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Atkinson, Moore, Kingsley, Cochrane; Sibbick, Haring; Ginnelly (Woodburn 80), Boyce, McKay (Thomas 89); Simms (Mackay-Steven 75).
Referee: Don Robertson.