Celtic returned to where this historic domestic season began to secure a sixth successive league title amid a surreal atmosphere.
Brendan Rodgers’ side drew the sting from Hearts in the professional manner to which we have become accustomed before turning on the style in front of banks of empty seats.
Most Hearts fans were in no mood to join in the fun and drifted off long before the end of the game. It meant they missed 1,500 Celtic supporters cavorting in the corner with the freshly crowned champions, including hat-trick hero Scott Sinclair.
Rodgers led his team towards those away fans with the golden ticket for access to Tynecastle before the manager then took a back seat. “If you are expecting me to slide on my knees, I’ve got to dry clean this suit!” the Northern Irishman quipped afterwards.
Apart from donning regulation title-winning t-shirts, the Celtic players were fairly restrained – this was, after all, simply confirmation of what had seemed inevitable since that opening day 2-1 win over Hearts. Sinclair came off the bench to score the winner that afternoon and he was, once again, the protagonist here.
Deprived of both Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths through injury, there were suggestions Celtic were operating without strikers. This proved a calumny of the highest order. After getting off the mark for his new club at Tynecastle in August, Sinclair scored his 19th, 20th and 21st goals of a superb debut season. With 18 goals, he is now the top scorer in the league – one ahead of Dembele.
His first two strikes yesterday all but extinguished Hearts’ challenge. The hosts were in the process of imposing themselves on the game prior to Sinclair’s stunning opener and might well have opened the scoring before the roof fell in.
Rodgers deployed Patrick Roberts, a winger, through the middle and he got in on the scoring act as well, delivering his side’s fourth with a deft left-footed finish.
Stuart Armstrong, perhaps Celtic’s best player in recent months, scored his fourth goal in five games ten minutes after half-time to put the visitors three goals ahead. Sinclair wrapped things up from the spot with six minutes left after being dragged down by Krystian Nowak in the box.
The unusually high number of empty seats in the home stands even just before kick-off was a telling sight. Some Hearts supporters were clearly not attracted by the thought of watching Celtic fans celebrate securing a sixth title in a row in the Gorgie sunshine.
Many of those who did overcome trepidation at the thought of what might happen melted away in the second half to get on with their Sunday elsewhere. Those who left avoided witnessing Hearts’ worst home league defeat since an infamous 7-0 loss against Hibs in 1973.
This is not the earliest that Celtic have secured the championship. The Parkhead side won the league on 26 March under Neil Lennon in 2014 and on 28 March at Tynecastle again in 1970. But the Scottish title has never been won with as many as eight games left to play.
As well as winning a treble, Celtic will also now look to complete the domestic season unbeaten. They have ten games left providing they beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final later this month. Only after this clash has
Rodgers promised to start resting players.
Even without the injured Dembele, Celtic were irresistible yesterday and could have scored more than five. But little in the opening stages anticipated what unfolded as Hearts, with skipper Perry Kitchen restored to the starting line-up for the first time in over a month, started brightly.
An Esmael Goncalves shot was gathered only at the second attempt by goalkeeper Craig Gordon, who took a boot to the head for his troubles as Bjorn Johnsen pounced. Nowak also saw a header beaten away by Gordon, who also saved from Jamie Walker.
But Celtic should have scored before they did – Callum McGregor shot weakly wide from close range.
The visitors clicked into gear after Kieran Tierney pushed forward before feeding Sinclair, who’d taken up a good position on the left touchline. Sinclair then moved inside, took a return pass from Roberts in his stride before shooting powerfully into the rigging of Jack Hamilton’s net.
Roberts was again provider three minutes later, expertly sliding the ball into Sinclair’s path after his strike partner had broken the Hearts back-line with a well-timed run. His finish was immaculate.
Armstrong made the game safe with another fine strike, rifling right-footed into the corner from 20 yards after 55 minutes. Roberts made sure the party continued for Celtic supporters with a cushioned, curled finish just after the hour mark. Sinclair then finished what he started after picking himself up off the ground to convert the penalty when Nowak had been adjudged, perhaps harshly, to have pulled his on-form opponent down.