CELTIC 5 HEARTS 0
BREATHTAKING! That’s the only word to describe a performance from Brendan Rodgers’ champions as they utterly demoralised the title pretenders from Edinburgh.
Celtic underlined their overwhelming superiority over Hearts as they completed a back-to-back glorious double following last Sunday’s runaway 3-0 Betfred League Cup semi-final at Murrayfield.
This time around at Parkhead, the Hoops went two better as Odsonne Edouard (2), Filip Benkovic, James Forrest and Ryan Christie (pen) got on the scoresheet as the title kings’ goalscoring in their past five domestic games rocketed to a remarkable 23.
The Tynecastle outfit have shed eight in two games to add to the six against St Johnstone, four versus Hibs and five at Dundee.
It’s awesome stuff as Celtic get back into their stride with another treble on the radar.
The frightening prospect from the Hearts point of view is that it could have a lot more punishing today than it was.
Not even Craig Levein could mount an argument on that summing-up.
CONGRATULATIONS…two-goal Odsonne Edouard is congratulated by James Forrest and Tom Rogic.
In the third minute, Edouard displayed some superb quick feet on the edge of the box to set up Christie, but the revitalised midfielder’s low drive was well held by the sprawling Zdenek Zlamal to his right.
No-frills Levein, even this early on, had illustrated he had absolutely no intention of allowing his players to add to the entertainment value in the east end of Glasgow.
The Edinburgh side retreated behind the ball to form a solid bank of four plus four in front of the keeper. The game-plan was based on blanket rearguard action and swift counter-attack. It’s not the first time the champions have encountered such a suffocating tactic in the last two-and-a-half campaigns and it won’t be the last.
Yet again, though, they demonstrated they possess the talents and the tools to dismantle such strategies.
In quickfire succession, Forrest and Christie had efforts blocked as the maroon wall held firm.
However, the defensive barrier was pierced in the 18th minute as Levein’s grand plan was dynamited by Edouard after some splendid work by Scott Sinclair.
The £9million French ace took aim from just outside the box to smash a right-foot shot unerringly into Zlamal’s top right-hand corner with the keeper left completely helpless.
Three minutes after the breakthrough strike, Kieran Tierney had a drive pushed away by the Czech shotstopper and this was swiftly followed by an effort from Forrest that slipped wide of the upright.
In the 26th minute, the Hoops doubled their advantage and on-loan Benkovic claimed his first goal for the club since arriving in the summer from Leicester City.
UNSTOPPABLE…£9million man Edouard.
Callum McGregor swung in a cunning left-wing corner-kick towards the edge of the six-yard box that found the towering Croatian central defender all on his own. Jimmy Dunne was the nearest opponent to the 6ft 5in stopper, but he had no chance of preventing him from rising to glance the ball into the net.
Hearts were on the ropes as Celtic went in to end the game as a contest. Two minutes after Benkovic’s header, Sinclair fizzed in a drive on target, but the keeper pulled off a smart save.
Six minutes from the interval, Edouard devastated the visitors with a superb finish for the third goal. The raiding Tierney provided the assist and the talented attacker made no mistake as he crashed a drive into the net from close range.
The ball had been popped around with several Celtic players getting a touch before it was pushed wide to the ever-eager Tierney and his inch-perfect cross was snapped up by the nonchalant attacker.
The pulverised league leaders were on their knees as the seven-in-a-row title-winners powered forward in search of even more goals.
Just before referee John Beaton’s half-time whistle, Tom Rogic brought the hard-pressed Zlamal into action again as he sent in a left-footed effort and, only moments later, Christie knocked a header wide of the post.
Six minutes after the interval, Sean Clare was booked for a late challenge on Tierney as the Tynecastle outfit came out in a determined mood after their first-half mauling.
Celtic claimed the fourth goal in the 65th minute just moments after McGregor had been denied a fabulous effort following a marvellous save from Zlamal.
DANGERMAN…James Forrest got on the scoresheet again.
Forrest showed yet another flash of the genius that won him the accolade of October Premiership Player of the Month as he hoisted his goal tally to nine in this extraordinarily prolific campaign.
The winger, accepting a pass from Edouard, raced in to the box at an angle and zipped an unstoppable drive into the net. He made it looked so easy.
There was a flicker of retaliation from the visitors with a shot against the upright, but normal service was resumed in the 89th minute.
Forrest was flattened in the box for a certain penalty-kick and the in-form Christie, in the absence of Sinclair who had just been withdrawn, was quick to take the responsibility.
The Highlander swept a left-foot drive into the net to bring down the curtain on a whirlwind performance.
Now the attention swings back to Europe and the visit of RB Leipzig on Thursday evening. Answers have been provided on the domestic front with a string of emphatic, impressive performances.
Three points against the Bundesliga big-spenders are a must if the Hoops are to have the chance of winning through Europa League Group B .
Confidence is high and the Germans will encounter a different team from the one they dismissed in the RB Arena last month.
That is guaranteed.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig (sub: Ajer 58), Boyata, Benkovic, Tierney; McGregor, Christie, Rogic; Forrest, Sinclair (sub: Morgan 80); Edouard (sub: Johnston 72).