Hearts confirmed their status as Scottish football’s least desirable house guests as they plundered what may prove to be a highly significant victory from Celtic Park to take the shine off the SPL champions’ title celebrations and trophy presentation.
The festivities for Gordon Strachan, his players and their supporters would continue long into the night regardless, although the manager’s day was further soured by his second-half dismissal by referee Stuart Dougal.
Hearts set themselves up in a system which made it clear they would have been content with a point, Michal Pospisil deployed as a lone striker with Kestutis Ivaskevicius operating just behind him, and they were able to largely restrict Celtic to long range attempts on goal during a low key first half.
Craig Gordon dealt with most of them with a degree of comfort, although he was extended by a Jiri Jarosik’s well struck effort with the Scotland No 1 plunging low to his right to turn the ball behind.
If there was no necessity for a sense of urgency in Celtic’s performance, they appeared determined enough to rack up yet another victory as they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession.
The match was spectacularly turned on its head, however, in a frenetic 15 minutes in which Hearts garnered their 3-1 advantage and Strachan was banished to the stand.
It was the outstanding Laryea Kingston who created the 57th minute opener for Hearts, surging down the right and delivering a low cross to Ivaskevicius. The Lithuanian easily eluded Steven Pressley’s cumbersome challenge and showed great composure to chip a right-foot shot over the advancing Artur Boruc.
Celtic had barely digested that setback when Hearts doubled their lead four minutes later.
Lee Naylor was booked for cynically stopping another Kingston run on the edge of the home penalty area and Andrew Driver stepped up to brilliantly curl the free-kick over the wall and beyond Boruc’s left hand in a manner Nakamura would have been proud to emulate at the other end.
The prospect of defeat on the day they retained possession of the trophy was an unpalatable one for Celtic and they almost immediately pulled themselves back into the contest when Pressley took full advantage of poor marking in the Hearts defence to head a Nakamura cross beyond Gordon from close range.
If the stage was now set for a typical Celtic comeback, Hearts were simply not prepared to follow the script. They sealed their victory with 19 minutes remaining, Pressley conceding a penalty with a bodycheck on Kingston which also earned him a caution. Pospisil stepped up to drive the ball emphatically beyond Boruc.
As Hearts then made their final change of the afternoon, sending Neil McCann on for Saulius Mikoliunas, Strachan was moved to pat the substitute on the back and apparently make a comment towards either him or the departing Lithuanian winger. The Celtic manager had earlier ordered his team to play on when Mikoliunas was prostrate after incurring an injury. Whatever Strachan said, it was overheard by referee Dougal who immediately ordered him to the stand.
Hearts: Gordon, Karipidis, Goncalves, Zaliukas, Ivaskevicius, Berra, Mikoliunas, Kingston, Pospisil, Bellier, Driver