Brendan Rodgers backed his Celtic players to a put together another unbeaten run after the champions fell to their first domestic defeat since May 2016.
The manager gathered his players in a huddle around him after the shock 4-0 loss to Hearts. Rodgers urged them to press “the re-set button” and start again, beginning on Wednesday night against Partick Thistle in a rearranged fixture.
Celtic now have a title race to think about with Aberdeen just two points behind in second place, having played a game more. The teams meet this weekend at Celtic Park.
“We’ve never ever said it’s been anything else,” said Rodgers. “Last year I said, we’re not defending a title, we have to win it. We won it last year and will look to go on and win it this year.”
Celtic fell just short of reaching 70 domestic games without defeat after Hearts emphatically put an end to the unbeaten sequence, scoring twice in the first half and twice more in the second.
Highly regarded 16-year-old Harry Cochrane set Hearts on their way with the opening goal, becoming the club’s second youngest goalscorer in the process.
Kyle Lafferty doubled Hearts’ lead ten minutes before half-time and David Milinkovic scored two goals in the second half, the latter from the penalty spot.
It is the Tynecastle club’s biggest over victory over the visitors since a 5-0 win in 1895 and the first time Celtic have failed to score against Scottish opposition since a 0-0 draw with Dundee in March 2016, under Ronny Deila.
Rodgers was quick to praise Hearts, who he said were deserved victors.
“It was always going to happen,” he continued. “I said over many months since I have been here, if the players aren’t human then I’d say maybe we’d never lose.
“But it was always going to happen. It is never nice when it does.”
Rodgers predicted such an unbeaten run won’t happen again in his or his players’ lifetimes, while dismissing those who use it as reason to sneer at the Scottish game.
“He noted it happens in England too, where Manchester City have now won 16 successive league matches.
“It is historical,” he said. “I think people will look at it in different ways.
“Like people will look at Pep Guardiola’s 15 games then all of a sudden there’s criticism of that. It’s whatever people’s perspective is.
“The reality of it is that it’s a history-making run. To go undefeated for 69 games, whatever level it is, whatever competition, it’s a remarkable achievement.
“The players will go down in history because I don’t think it will be done again. Certainly in our lifetimes it won’t be done. They can take huge pride in that.
“I wanted to pull them together [at the end] and let them be aware that they were better than us today and we have to accept that,” he added.
“But what you’ve done is amazing and they should use this feeling they have not felt for 18 months, use it as a lever really when moving forward and learn from it and be better for it.
“We are a bigger target for what we have done. We have to learn from that and accept it.”