Celtic's apparent toils over nine-man Hearts contribute to deceptive day

All was far from it might superficially appear in digesting Celtic - by their manager’s admission - grinding out a 2-0 victory over Hearts.

Celtic weren't emphatic in front of goal in their usual fashion across their 2-0 win over Hearts but Kyogo Furuhashi was all of that with his 13th minute deadlock-breaker. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Celtic weren't emphatic in front of goal in their usual fashion across their 2-0 win over Hearts but Kyogo Furuhashi was all of that with his 13th minute deadlock-breaker. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

It was a strange sort of afternoon in Glasgow’s east end as Ange Postecoglou’s men racked up their 36th league game without defeat - to equal the Australian’s best run in his near quarter-of-a-century coaching career, which he accomplished 11 years ago with Brisbane Roar. Celtic weren’t seriously troubled by their visitors even if their levels seriously dropped off following the interval. Equally, though, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson wasn’t guilty of going overboard in commending a side he extensively rejigged - with an “eye” on their Europa League play-off decider on Thursday, he confessed - for staying in the contest. He did push it, mind you, in attempting to forward the notion that, but for referee Kevin Clancy being one-eyed to send off Alex Cochrane and Toby Sibbick for second bookable offences a minute apart as the full 90 rolled around, the outcome could have been altogether different. Never mind that the four cautions to see the pair brandished reds were all justified.

As it was, not until substitute Giorgos Giakmoukais scruffily - he loves that sort of goal - forced over a Josip Juranovic right wing cross in the fourth minute of added time were the points absolutely safe for Celtic. But, before then only three fine stops from keeper Ross Stewart prevented the scoreline being as one-sided as the possession stats. The keeper, in a rare start, didn’t have the club’s faithful pining for Craig Gordon, rested with a back spasm before he is dusted down for the Gorgie assignment against Zurich wherein a 2-1 deficit will require to be overturned. Quite a feather in the cap for Stewart, that.

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There are many of these for Celtic through them having now won 20 and drawn three of their past 23 league home encounters. A few weeks short of a year without defeat in the top flight, even when lacking fluency, across the first period they were able to reduce the - an admittedly understrength - third best team in Scotland to bystanders. The home team should have had the contest wrapped up in that spell, but it was almost as if they weren’t so fussed about any missed openings in harbouring the belief others would present themselves before long.

That wasn’t the case with the destructive move that put them ahead in 13 minutes, it must be said. For it, David Turnbull darted forward and played the ball out to Daizen Maeda on the right. The Japanese attacker then shrugged off Alex Cochrane as if he wasn’t there before delivering an artful cross that Kyogo Furuhashi, with utter nonchalance, clipped in. A third goal in as many games, it was unforgivable that the predator found himself alone in the six yard box. The walkies that resulted in centre-backs Kye Rowles and Sibbick being completely out of the picture for the strike proved costly for Hearts.

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Ultimately - and privately - Neilson will be content his team didn’t receive a beating as he kept such as Lawrence Shankland, Barrie McKay - second half substitutes - and Gordon essentially fresh for Hearts’ most important game this week. And Celtic will be satisfied that, even when far from at their best, there is growing evidence that precious few teams on the domestic scene will be able to take advantage. A month in, and there have been no signs of faltering. As already cannot be said of any other team in the top flight.

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