HEARTS 1 CELTIC 3
CHAMPIONS! Celtic marked their fifth successive Premiership title triumph in the capital with a hard-fought and well-merited triumph over a determined Hearts side at Tynecastle.
Leigh Griffiths scored again for his 39th strike of a remarkable and profitable campaign and also his 30th in the league. He is now one goal away from equalling Henrik Larsson’s fabulous 40 which the Swedish superstar claimed all of 12 years ago.
Patrick Roberts netted, also, for his third senior goal and, ironically, they have all come against Hearts following his double in the identical win at Parkhead at the start of the month.
Rounding off a joyous occasion, a rejuvenated Colin Kazim-Richards thumped in his first league goal for the Hoops since his January move from Feyenoord. His only previous effort had come in the 2-0 Scottish Cup victory over East Kilbride in January.
Departing boss Ronny Deila, with only three games remaining before leaves the club, led the players out to accept the rapturous applause of the fans at Tynecastle.
The win gave the Hoops 80 points with three games remaining, 12 points ahead of Aberdeen, who were due to play Motherwell later in the afternoon.
Mission Impossible would show that the Pittodrie side could still mathematically catch the Parkhead outfit on points, but it would take a collapse of monumental proportions from the champions and a massive surge for the Dons to prevent the trophy being presented to Scott Brown at the end of the game against Motherwell on May 16.
After the Tynecastle triumph, Celtic were THIRTY-EIGHT goals better off than Derek McInnes’ side on goal difference.
No self-respecting fiction writer would even attempt to conjure up a championship crown heading for the north. It’s Celtic’s property yet again.
Deila and his players must have wondered if it was going to be one of those days when Callum McGregor had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out for offside in the 12th minute. TV pictures showed the midfield attacker was well onside after Neil Alexander had parried a shot from Roberts.
Alan Muir’s referee assistant Steven Mitchell was quick with his flag and the match official accepted his judgement. It won’t be one the linesman will want to see again, as the pundits constantly tell us on telly.
Thankfully, though, the opening goal was only delayed a further three minutes and it was brilliantly constructed and finished by a composed Kazim-Richards with a fair degree of accomplishment.
McGregor slipped a nice pass in front of the marauding Mikael Lustig and he lofted over a sweet cross to the back post. Kazim-Richards’ timing couldn’t have been bettered as he controlled the ball on his chest and struck it firmly on the half-volley with his right foot. Alexander hadn’t an earthly as the effort raged low in at the right-hand post.
Five minutes before the interval, Griffiths should have doubled Celtic’s advantage. A rebound off Nir Bitton ricocheted into his path with the Hearts central defenders caught far too wide apart.
The prolific hitman was onto the ball in an instant, brought it under control and zeroed in on Alexander. It looked a goal all the way, but his finishing effort was poor and allowed the sprawling keeper to divert it past the post.
Worryingly, Robbie Nielsen’s side came more into the contest after the turnaround and Djoum forced a fabulous diving save from Craig Gordon as he shovelled away a goalscoring effort with his left hand.
Hearts continued to take the game to the champions and they duly got the goal their pressure deserved in the 57th minute. There was no surprise they took advantage of Celtic’s soft centre with Charlie Mulgrew failing a late fitness test and joining Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata on the sidelines.
Abiola Duaba practically coasted past the recalled Efe Ambrose, brushed Bitton aside and then rifled a low right foot shot past the exposed and motionless Gordon, the ball flying through the legs of Erik Sviatchenko on its way into the net.
However, after weathering a bit of pressure, Celtic came back into the game and Lustig headed over after Sviatchenko had knocked on a right-wing corner-kick.
In the 66th minute, Roberts scored an opportunist’s goal after closing down the hesitant John Souttar who fluffed a clearance. The £12million on-loan Manchester City winger controlled the ball on his chest, sped into the danger area, lured Alexander from his line and then expertly slid the ball under the keeper for the second.
Tynecastle erupted amid joyous scenes and the travelling fans realised the title party was about to get started in earnest.
A third goal would help ease any anxiety and that was duly delivered by Griffiths – who else? – in the 85th minute. The marksman and had just been booked for a silly spat with Souttar who was also yellow-carded. The caution will now keep Scotland’s top scorer out of Celtic’s first league game of the new season.
However, he didn’t let that thought put him out of his stride as he sought instant retribution on the young Hearts defender. Griffiths charged down an attempted clearance by Souttar and raced into the danger area. The player tried to make up ground, but the international striker calmly nutmegged his opponent to set up a glorious chance for his trusty left foot and he didn’t fail as he blasted the ball between Alexander and his near post.
Deila immediately took off the goalscorer and put on Stuart Armstrong just in case the eager referee flashed another yellow at his star performer in the fading moments.
At the final whistle, there was no telling any of the Celtic management, officials, players or supporters that there was still the outrageous chance the club might not win their 47th title of an illustrious history.
Let the champagne flow…now for SIX in a row!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Ambrose, Sviatchenko, Tierney; McGregor, Brown (sub: Commons 90), Bitton; Roberts (sub: Rogic 69), Griffiths (sub: Armstrong 86), Kazim-Richards.
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