HEARTS 1 CELTIC 2
SCOTT SINCLAIR followed the script perfectly as he took his Celtic bow amid Tynecastle turmoil with both teams going at it with a verve and gusto.
It was locked at 1-1 when Brendan Rodgers unleashed his latest signing for his long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated debut in the green and white hoops.
Sinclair was on the pitch 20 minutes when he claimed the winning goal in the 81st minute after a fabulous run and pass from Leigh Griffiths.
The striker raced down the left after a Hearts corner-kick had been repelled. He held onto the ball until the perfect moment before releasing a cunning low cross into the box.
Sinclair, who had kept pace with the frontman on the break, got in before a desperate Hearts defender to touch a left-foot effort away from the helpless Jack Hamilton from four yards.
What a welcome for the 27-year-old who had been tracked by his former Swansea boss throughout the summer. It already looks like being money well spent.
But Sinclair had to be content with a place on the substitutes’ bench only hours after the confirmation of his signing from Aston Villa.
The Hoops went into the confrontation knowing they hadn’t lost in any of their last 15 visits to Tynecastle and Hearts boss Robbie Neilson had yet to be on the winning side after seven games, suffering five defeats and gaining two draws.
It took the visitors only eight minutes to claim the breakthrough goal with a stunning and controlled strike from James Forrest who started and finished the sweeping move down the right.
He picked up possession on the halfway line and immediately set off for enemy territory before knocking a pass in front of Callum McGregor.
The midfielder was clattered from behind by Igor Rossi, but the ball still found its way back to Forrest who met it perfectly with his left foot from 20 yards to guide a superb effort wide of Hamilton’s lunge to his right-hand side.
Three minutes later, Conor Sammon became the first of four Hearts players to be booked in the first-half by referee John Beaton when he recklessly charged into the side of Kolo Toure.
Six minutes after that it was the turn of Arnaud Djoum for a foul on Scott Brown as the pace hotted up in a frantic encounter.
The Edinburgh side should have levelled in the 24th minute when Callum Paterson curled in a right-wing cross.
Craig Gordon missed the flight of the ball and Tony Watt got in between Mikael Lustig and Toure to get his head to the opportunity.
Astonishingly, though, his attempt from only four yards was off target as the Celtic rearguard heaved a sigh of relief.
Remarkably, Rodgers’ men should have gone two ahead only a handful of seconds later when Gordon’s wind-assisted goal-kick travelled the length of the pitch and eliminated Rossi and the rest of the home defence.
Griffiths timed his run perfectly as Hamilton hesitated, but, unbelievably, when it looked as though he must score, last season’s 40-goal man wastefully lobbed the ball wide of the upright.
Ex-Celt Watt was fortunate to remain on the pitch after he raised his hands to his old skipper Brown on the touchline. The Parkhead midfielder ignored the gesture and refused to make a meal of it. Watt, though, was booked.
The game roared on at an electrifying pace with the blustery and unpredictable conditions playing their part. Brown was given a chance after a well-worked free-kick, but his low shot was blocked by Hamilton.
Hearts equalised in the 35th minute with a controversial penalty-kick and match official Beaton will not want to watch this one again.
He didn’t hesitate as he pointed to the spot when Jamie Walker went down, the ref obviously thinking he had been tripped by Kieran Tierney.
TV pictures showed it was a blatant dive by the Hearts player and there was no contact, but Beaton, unfortunately, bought into it. Rubbing salt into the Celtic wounds, Walker took the spot-kick and sent it to Gordon’s left as the keeper dived to his right.
Gordon also picked up a yellow card for apparently delaying the kick.
To be fair to the Hoops players, they simply got on with the job and should have gone back in front three minutes later, but were denied by a spectacular goal-line clearance by Rossi.
Moussa Dembele powered in from the left to drive a low shot towards the far corner, but Hamilton reacted well to push the ball up and away.
It fell to Griffiths who knocked it towards the gaping net and it looked a goal all the way until the Hearts defender got back to head it away and the ball was snatched by his grateful shotstopper.
Two minutes from the interval, Gordon was forced to sprawl full-length to his right to push away a sizzling low drive from Watt after he had skipped past a couple of challenges on the 18-yard line.
Rossi was booked for holding back Dembele five minutes after the turnaorund and three minutes later Paterson became the sixth Hearts player to be cautioned after a blatant foul on the French striker.
Just after the hour mark, Sinclair made his debut for the Hoops as he came on as a substitute for Stuart Armstrong.
Tom Rogic joined him off the bench in the 73rd minute when he came on for O’Connell as the Hoops went to a back three.
It was Gordon to the rescue two minutes afterwards, though, when he saved well from Sammon after a mix-up between his team-mates.
A minute later, Don Cowie went into the book for a ferocious challenge on Tierney and Brown joined him shortly afterwards for a protest following another dodgy decision from the ref.
The winning goal came nine minutes from time from Sinclair who received a yellow card for celebrating behind the goal with the travelling fans.
With seven minutes to go, Rodgers astutely removed Griffiths and sent on Saidy Janko to again go to a back four with Lustig partnering Toure in central defence leaving Dembele as the lone frontman.
A minute from the end, Gordon made a fine flying save from an angled effort from Cowie and Dembele also had his name noted by Beaton for throwing the ball away.
At the end, Rodgers and Celtic will be delighted to take three points on a day where Aberdeen, last season’s runners-up, were held to a goalless draw by St Johnstone.
And what a welcome for Scott Sinclair as he started to repay his old gaffer for his faith in him.
Could be a marriage made in Paradise!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Toure, O’Connell (sub: Rogic 73), Tierney; Forrest, Brown, McGregor, Armstrong (sub: Sinclair 61); Dembele, Griffiths (sub: Janko 83).