SMOOTH operator Matt O’Riley was unstoppable as Celtic overwhelmed Hearts at Tynecastle this afternoon to regain their seven-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle.

The midfielder teased and tantalised right from the start as the home supporters, so vociferous before kick-off, were silenced as the visitors took control of the encounter.

O’Riley hit the breathtaking breakthrough goal in the fourth minute and there was no way back for the hosts when Daizen Maeda slid in to double the advantage in the 22nd minute.

Kyogo Furuhashi walloped in No.3 six minutes after the interval – just after Reo Hatate had slammed a penalty-kick against the woodwork – and substitute Tomoki Iwata netted his first goal for the team when he struck near the end.

HOOPY DAZE…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates his goal against Hearts with Greg Taylor and Matt O’Riley about to join in at Tynecastle this afternoon.

The only moment of concern for Joe Hart came in the 64th minute when Lawrence Shankland claimed the consolation effort for the home side.

The opening strike was a thing of beauty with Luis Palma deserving a round of rapturous applause for his part in setting up the opportunity for O’Riley.

The Honduran winger, making his second successive start, weighed up the situation in a heartbeat when the ball dropped at his feet on the left.

Palma dragged the ball inside onto his right foot before dinking an exquisite diagonal pass to O’Riley whose timing of his run into the danger zone was impeccable. He allowed the pass to drop over his shoulder before catching it first-time on the drop with his left foot and his immaculate effort swept low past the stranded Zander Clark at his left.

The small group of travelling fans rose in unison to salute the eye-catching strike as the rest of the ground went quiet.

NUMBER ONE…Matt O’Riley is congratulated by Luis Palma after firing Celtic into an early lead against Hearts.

The response from the home team was a ferocious angled right-foot drive from Kenneth Vargas in the 14th minute, but Hart reacted with lightning reflexes to push the shot wide of his left-hand upright.

Hatate was being shadowed just about everywhere by the tenacious Cammy Devlin, but the Japanese ace got free of the Aussie’s shackles in the 22nd minute and that spelled disaster for Steven Naismith’s men.

He worked a superb one-two with O’Riley as he drove into the box on the right. The midfield dynamo sizzled a low cross into the box and his country man Maeda was lurking to turn the ball into the net from just about under the crossbar.

Referee Nick Walsh signalled a goal, but VAR, with Andrew Dallas in front on the multi-screens in the Glasgow office, had a check of the validity of the effort. Images clearly showed Maeda was behind the ball when Hatate whipped it across and the goal stood.

NUMBER TWO…Daizen Maeda and Luis Palma celebrate the Japanese speedster’s goal at Tynecastle.

The second-half had an explosive start when the Hoops were awarded a penalty-kick after Alex Cochrane downed Kyogo. The award was given the go-ahead after being checked by VAR.

Hatate lashed the ball at goal, but his precision was out and the effort thumped off the right-hand upright and ricocheted to safety as Clark took off in the opposite direction. To be fair, the decision would come into the softish category.

All was forgiven, though, when the midfield man cutely diverted a long pass from Liam Scales into the path of Palma on the left.

The Honduran carried it forward before sweeping an inviting cross into the box off the outside of his right foot and Kyogo was in the right place at the right time to blitz a 10-yard drive high past the keeper.

NUMBER THREE…Kyogo Furuhashi lashes a left-foot drive past helpless Hearts keeper Zander Clark with defender Alex Cochrane too late to intervene.

Shankland gave the remaining Hearts followers a crumb of comfort when he took advantage of a moment of slackness from Maeda to swivel and shoot low past Hart for a neat goal.

In the 66th minute, Brendan Rodgers sent on Tomoki Iwata and James Forrest for Hatate and Palma as he freshened up the team.

Seven minutes later, there was another double substitution from the Hoops boss as Yang Hyun-jun and Oh Hyeon-gyu came on for Maeda and Kyogo.

Number four arrived in the 81st minute after Greg Taylor had set up Oh. His first drive was blocked by Clark and the ball rebounded straight to the South Korean striker.

He blasted in another shot and this time it was charged down by Frankie Kent.

NUMBER FOUR…Tomoki Iwata wallops in an unsaveable left-foot shot with Oh Hyeon-gyu getting a close-up view.

This time the ball dropped to Iwata and he thundered a left-foot shot into the net off the underside of the crossbar for a memorable maiden strike for Celtic after his January arrival.

Moments later, skipper Callum McGregor, who had quietly patrolled the middle of the battlefield, made way for the introduction of Paulo Bernardo.

The game eased to an inevitable conclusion and a well-deserved three points for the champions following a comprehensive performance.

TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Scales, Taylor; O’Riley McGregor (sub: Bernardo 82), Hatate (sub: Iwata 66); Maeda (sub: Yang 73), Kyogo (sub: Oh 73), Palma (sub: Forrest 66).

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