CELTIC 4 HEARTS 1
OKAY, we know it is not mathematically done and dusted, but just try telling that to any Celtic fan.
Or Ange Postecoglou. Or any of his players.
The title is on its way back to the east end of Glasgow and it just a matter of when and not if.
Celtic gifted Hearts a goal of a start before coming back in whirlwind fashion to thump four past the overworked Craig Gordon to stretch their lead at the top of the Premiership to nine points with two games to play.
Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi, Matt O’Riley and Giorgos Giakoumakis piled on the agony for the former Hoops keeper as Postecoglou’s side reacted in a relentessly positive manner to their false start.
HAPPY DAYS…Daizen Maeda races away after slotting in the leveller.
With incredible irony, the team may get the opportunity to make absolutely certain of their tenth title in 11 years on Wednesday at Tannadice, the same venue where they finally relinquished their grasp on their long-held championship last season.
Of course, that game could be rendered basically meaningless if Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s outfit fail to beat Dundee United at Ibrox tomorrow afternoon.
The Hoops had the perfect reponse to losing an early goal by coming storming back to strike twice in the space of seven minutes through Maeda and Kyogo.
At the start, though, the players and the sell-out audience were stunned in only three minutes when the Tynecastle outfit took the lead as the defence switched off at a left-wing throw-in.
The ball was sent into the box, Liam Boyce cushioned a pass in front of Ellis Simms who took a touch before turning to sweep a close-range effort behind the motionless Joe Hart.
It looked tight, but images appeared to show Carl Starfelt just playing the Hearts frontman onside.
The goal undoubtedly shook Celtic out of their stride and they struggled to get back into the contest. There were misplaced passes all over the pitch as the team strived for composure and cohesion.
NUMBER ONE…Daizen Maeda slots the ball under Hearts keeper Craig Gordon for the equaliser.
Callum McGregor was playing a captain’s part as usual as he tackled, harried, fetched the ball, ran and passed.
Hearts skipper Gordon denied his old team a leveller in the 12th minute as he got down smartly to save a 12-yard drive from comeback Bhoy David Turnbull after the visiting defence had failed to clear a swirling cross from the intelligent O’Riley.
The Edinburgh club had clearly come to Glasgow without any thoughts of entertaining the crowd and there was the pathetic sight of their players attempting to waste time with well over an hour still to play.
In the 28th minute, McGregor burst down the left before picking out Kyogo in the box, but his low effort was blocked by the sprawling Gordon and cleared by a relieved team-mate.
However, something had to give as the Hoops got a hold of the game and the equaliser arrived on the half-hour mark after some quick thinking from Filipe Jota.
NUMBER TWO…Kyogo Furuhashi’s header is clearly over the line as Craig Gordon attempts to push the ball back into play while Filipe Jota gets a good close-up view.
The Portuguese winger raced onto a pass from Turnbull and looked as though he was about to play in Kyogo who appeared to be in an offside position.
In a heartbeat, Jota sized up the situation and kept on running before releasing a perfect pass in front of Maeda and the energetic Japanese forward, almost on the penalty spot, tucked the ball behind the stranded Hearts keeper.
Celtic Park erupted in joy and they staged an action replay only seven minutes later when Postecoglou’s battlers took the lead.
O’Riley accepted a shy from Greg Taylor on the left before displaying a delightful change of pace as he dragged the ball towards the touchline.
NUMBER THREE…Matt O’Riley’s low drive eludes the frantic dive of Craig Gordon with Liel Abada in attendance.
He delivered a superb ball to the back post where Jota showed great determination and athleticism to leap high to knock it back into the goalmouth and Kyogo materialised just yards from the goal-line to nod the ball over the line.
Gordon frantically clawed the ball back into play, but images clearly showed Kyogo’s 18th goal of the season was valid.
Shortly after the turnaround, O’Riley was denied by the woodwork when he saw an effort crash off the inside of Gordon’s right-hand post after his first shot had been blocked.
The young Englishman was turning in a Man of the Match performance with his brilliant work all over the park.
On the 64-minute mark, Postecoglou introduced Reo Hatate, Liel Abada and Giakoumakis for Turnbull, Maeda and Kyogo as they went in pursuit of a third goal.
Five minutes later, the ground was heaving once again when O’Riley had better luck with a low right-foot angle drive that eluded Gordon after he had been set up by a Taylor pass from the left.
Thirteen minutes later, Tom Rogic joined the action with the so-impressive O’Riley making way. It’s still hard to believe this guy was playing in the English third tier before the turn of the year.
Next up, James Forrest came on in the 81st minute for Jota who thought he had scored a fourth goal a minute earlier. Cameron Carter-Vickers won a good challenge on the right, whipped an excellent pass to Abada and he placed the ball in front of the flamboyant Portuguese flanker.
NUMBER FOUR…Giorgos Giakoumakis joined in the goal party after being set up by James Forrest.
He made a tidy job of slotting the ball wide of the exposed Gordon, but it was ruled out for a tight offside decision. Hearts had received the benefit of the doubt at their goal from Simms, but Celtic were not to benefit from such decision-making.
The contest had the perfect ending as Giakoumakis fired in after being set up by Forrest. The Greek wasted no time as he latched onto a cute cutback from Forrest to thump thumping a right-foot drive beyond the blameless netminder.
Abada might have had a fifth in the fading moments, but his rasping effort was touched over the bar the athletic shotstopper.
Now it is just a question of time before the trophy is back where it belongs.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; O’Riley (sub: Rogic 77), McGregor, Turnbull (sub: Hatate 64); Jota (sub: Forrest 81), Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 64), Maeda (sub: Abada 64).