Hearts winger Kenneth Vargas chases Celtic defender Liam Scales. Pic: SNS
A comfortable Celtic victory kept them seven points clear at the top of the Premiership table as Hearts suffered for an awful first-half display at Tynecastle Park. Matt O’Riley and Daizen Maeda put the visitors 2-0 ahead by half-time, with Kyogo Furuhashi adding a third after the interval and substitute Tomoki Iwata claiming a late fourth.
Lawrence Shankland netted a consolation goal for the hosts with 25 minutes remaining, but 3-1 was too great a deficit to recover before Iwata added a fourth. Hearts delivered a below-par performance overall, especially in the opening 45 minutes, and could not match their opponents’ intensity. They lost possession cheaply at times and failed to track attacking runs from the midfield area. Celtic capitalised ruthlessly and could have scored more, with Reo Hatate striking a penalty-kick against the post early in the second half.
Only 576 tickets were allocated to Celtic supporters for this fixture, giving Hearts an overwhelming advantage in terms of fan numbers. That didn’t translate onto the pitch, however. Celtic moved ahead inside four minutes when Luis Palma’s clipped ball forward dropped over O’Riley’s shoulder before being lashed first-time into the Hearts net by the midfielder’s left foot.
Kenneth Vargas stung the palms of visiting goalkeeper Joe Hart after quarter of an hour. At the opposite end, Zander Clark made a smart save from Maeda’s powerful 20-yard drive. Celtic went 2-0 ahead on 23 minutes when Hatate sent a low delivery across the six-yard area for his fellow Japanese Maeda to bundle the ball over the goal line.
The Glasgow club were in control and won a penalty seconds after half-time when the returning Hearts defender Alex Cochrane impeded Kyogo inside the box. However, Hatate drove the resultant spot-kick off Clark’s right post. Celtic waited only a few minutes to claim their third goal of the afternoon when Palma’s low cross found the unmarked Kyogo for a definitive finish.
At that point it was certainly game over. Hearts improved briefly after introducing Beni Baningime for Calem Nieuwenhof and Yutaro Oda for Alex Lowry. They reduced the deficit when Shankland dispatched a precise right-footed finish on the turn beyond Hart and into the net via a post on 65 minutes.
Scoring another twice in the time left was too much to ask, though. Celtic found the net again with nine minutes remaining. Substitute Tomoki Iwata fired the ball home off the underside of the crossbar after a fine defensive block by Frankie Kent rebounded into his path.
Here are the Hearts player ratings from Tynecastle:
GK: Zander Clark
6 – Had little chance with any of the Celtic goals and needed more protection
RB: Toby Sibbick
6 – Frequently tried to attack but found Palma an elusive opponent when defending.
CB: Frankie Kent
7 – Won headers and positioned himself well to defend crosses.
CB: Kye Rowles
6 – Read the game well and tackled strongly.
LB: Alex Cochrane
6 – Thrown back into the team after a month out. Unfortunate to concede a soft penalty.
CM: Cammy Devlin
6 – No lack of endeavour from the Australian in midfield.
CM: Calem Nieuwenhof
5 – Gave the ball away too often in the first half. Could have been subbed earlier.
AMR: Alan Forrest
6 – Looked for pockets of space but wasn’t able to create much.
AMC: Alex Lowry
6 – Tried to be creative but nothing came off on a disappointing afternoon before he was subbed.
AML: Kenneth Vargas
6 – Worked hard to press the Celtic defence without much joy.
ST: Lawrence Shankland
7 – Took his goal extremely well and will be relieved to end his recent barren spell.
SUB: Yutaro Oda (for Lowry, 58 mins)
5 – Worked hard and tried to be direct by running at the Celtic defence with the ball.
SUB: Beni Baningime (for Nieuwenhof, 58 mins)
4 – Still looking to get back up to speed after injury.
SUB: Liam Boyce (for Vargas, 72 mins)
4 – Northern Irishman tried to get on the ball and looked hungry to win back a place in the team.
SUB: Jorge Grant (for Devlin, 82 mins)
3 – Only got a few minutes on the pitch.