CELTIC 2 HEARTS 0
KYOGO FURUHASHI staged an action replay to help fire Celtic to the Premiership pinnacle at a packed Parkhead this afternoon.
Giorgos Giakoumakis made certain in stoppage-time after Hearts finished the contest with nine men following two red cards in the fading moments.
Back in December, Kyogo got the only goal of the game against the Tynecastle team as the Hoops continued the pursuit of their tenth title in 11 years.
PRIZE GUYS…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates a goal with a little help from Josip Juranovic.
On this occasion, the Japanese international fired in the opener against Robbie Neilson’s men in the 13th minute and Giakoumakis netted a second as Ange Postecoglou’s side took over in pole position with two points to spare.
By the time the Greek hitman had claimed No.2, Alex Cochrane and Tony Sibbick had already departed the scene after both had picked up two yellow cards. It didn’t change the complexion of the outcome with the home side leading 1-0 before the first of the dismissals near the end.
The champions notched up their 36th league game without defeat, but it has to be admitted they have performed better although they will de delighted with their 100 per cent record after four consecutive wins in defence of their title.
FINAL FAREWELL…John ‘Yogi’ Hughes on the big screens at his beloved Celtic Park.
There was a rousing minute’s applause for club great John ‘Yogi’ Hughes before kick-off. The Hoops’ eighth-highest scorer with 189 goals passed away at the age of 79 on August 1 following a short illness.
Visiting keeper Ross Stewart, in for the injured Craig Gordon, got a welcome early touch of the ball when he intercepted a left-wing cross from Filipe Jota.
In the 13th minute, the champions broke the deadlock with a sweet, fast-paced move that sliced through the Edinburgh team.
Cameron Carter-Vickers got the ball rolling with a crisp delivery to David Turnbull who switched it to Daizen Maeda on the right who swept past Cochrane to zip in a low cross.
BREAKTHROUGH…Kyogo Furuhashi slams in the opener after great service from the grounded Daizen Maeda.
Kyogo arrived bang on time with the visiting defenders caught unawares by the sheer speed and incisiveness of the raid and the Japanese ace didn’t break stride as he walloped the ball into the net from close range.
Six minutes later, Jota threw in a cross from the opposite wing, but Maeda was just too slow to connect at the far post.
Next up, the Portuguese flyer embarked upon a solo sortie that ended with a flashing low drive that slammed into the sidenetting with Stewart scrambling across his line.
There was a brief scare for the Hoops when Hearts put together a slick move to present Josh Ginnelly a shooting chance on the edge of the box, but he sliced his effort well wide of Joe Hart’s right-hand upright.
Just on the half-hour mark, Maeda passed up a good opportunity smack in front of goal as he got his head to a left-wing cross from Matt O’Riley, but his effort flew harmlessly into the grateful arms of Stewart.
A minute afterwards, the netminder denied Greg Taylor after the left-back had sizzled in a 25-yard drive. It was heading for the roof of the net before Stewart’s timely intervention.
CLINCHER…Giorgos Giakoumakis knocks the second goal past Hearts keeper Ross Stewart.
Celtic rolled forward in relentless fashion and Taylor picked out O’Riley with a neat cross, but the Danish Under-21 midfielder sent an acrobatic effort wide of Stewart’s right-hand post.
Ex-Celt Gary Mackay-Steven was booked just before the interval when he tripped Josip Juanovic as the Croatian stormed towards the Edinbugh side’s penalty box. Referee Kevin Clancy had no option but to flash a yellow card.
The Hoops failed to capitalise when the ball was played to Taylor who was adjudged to be offside when he received the pass from the free-kick. He clipped the ball into the box before Moritz Jenz headed into the net, but the whistle had clearly gone moments beforehand.
The champs had vasts amount of possession as they dominated proceedings, but they just could not achieve the second goal before the turnaround that would have given them some breathing space.
Postecoglou would have been far from impressed by the sloppy start to the second-half from his players as they allowed the visitors space to pin them in defence.
Toby Sibbick was booked for a bad challenge on Turnbull and in the 55th minute the Scotland international was removed along with Maeda as the manager made a double substitution with Reo Hatate and Liel Abada coming on.
SEALED WITH A KISS…Giorgos Giakoumakis celebrates another goal.
Three minutes later, O’Riley saw a blaster blocked by Stewart and Hatate hit the rebound wide as the visitors breathed a sigh of relief.
Cochrane picked up a deserved yellow card for holding back Juranovic as the Hoops broke clear following a corner-kick to the visitors. The Hearts defender could have no complaints after going unpunished for a series of infringements. Worse was to follow for the left-back.
There were groans of frustration from the home fans as Kyogo became the latest Celt to be caught offside as the Edinburgh club’s defence once more moved out in unison.
In th 72nd minute, Giakoumakis came on for Kyogo while Aaron Mooy replaced O’Riley as Postecoglou freshened up his side.
Three minutes later, Moritz Jenz blew the chance to score in his third successive game when he latched onto a Giakoumakis pass and then wildly blazed over from 14 yards when he really should have hit the target.
Celtic stepped up the tempo as they searched for the second goal, but the visitors worked hard to keep them out.
GRIN BONUS…Filipe Jota celebrates with the Celtic fans.
Two minutes from the end, Cochrane saw red after a cynical foul on Callum McGregor as he sent the skipper toppling.
Moments later, Sibbick was also dismissed after clearly pushing Abada to the ground as the Israeli attacker tried to break clear.
Giakoumakis, who had just been thwarted by an excellent diving save from Stewart, made sure the points would remain in the east end of Glasgow when he bundled in a low right-wing cross from Juranovic.
With the two red cards and the late goal, it was an unusual climax to a confrontation that was hard fought from start to finish.
The main thing is Celtic are back to their rightful place at the top of Scottish football.
TEAM: Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Jenz, Taylor; Turnbull (sub: Hatate 55), McGregor, O’Riley (sub: Mooy 72); Jota, Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 72), Maeda (sub: Abada 55).