Celtic roared back to all but secure the Scottish Premiership title with a rousing victory at home to Hearts.
Ellis Simms’ emphatic finish stunned the home crowd early on, but the league leaders responded in relentless fashion as two goals in seven first-half minutes from Japanese duo Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi turned the game.
Matt O’Riley and Giorgos Giakoumakis sealed the win that puts Celtic nine points clear of Rangers, who have three games to claw back the deficit plus an inferior goal difference of 22.
If Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Europa League finalists fail to beat Dundee United at Ibrox on Sunday, the title will mathematically be beyond last season’s league winners, but even victory will almost certainly be delaying the inevitable.
Celtic travel to Tannadice – the ground where they relinquished the trophy last season – on Wednesday. Should Rangers win on Sunday, a point will be enough for Ange Postecoglou’s men to confirm their status as champions.
Hearts, who pushed for a leveller before O’Riley increased the hosts’ advantage, have already secured third spot.
While Rangers’ Europa League party had just about died down on the south side of the river, Celtic were looking to start their own by effectively reclaiming the title from their rivals with a 25th win in 30 league games.
Hearts did their best to halt the league leaders’ pursuit by silencing the boisterous home support with an early opener when Simms spun in the box under pressure before crashing a fine finish past Joe Hart.
On first viewing, it looked like the Everton loanee may have been offside, but replays showed Carl Starfelt’s foot was playing the striker on.
After a ropey first 10 minutes, Celtic showed signs of clicking into gear when David Turnbull, on his first start since mid-December, and Kyogo forced Craig Gordon into sharp saves.
O’Riley was next to be denied when Stephen Kingsley headed away his goal-bound effort. But Postecoglou’s side soon got the goal their relentless pressure merited when great work from Jota down the right saw the winger slide the ball across goal for Maeda to sweep in a leveller.
Hearts were incensed, claiming a free-kick should have been awarded for a foul on Toby Sibbick in the build-up, but referee Steven McLean waved play on.
The first-half turnaround was complete seven minutes later and Jota was again the provider, towering at the back post to set up Kyogo, whose close-range header just about crossed the line despite Gordon’s best efforts.
Robbie Neilson’s side pushed for a second-half equaliser without creating anything clear cut, but the game was beyond the visitors when O’Riley, who had smashed a shot off the left-hand post 10 minutes earlier, drilled low into the far corner from the right of the box.
Celtic polished off the comeback win when Giakoumakis slammed in a fourth after Gordon had denied Reo Hatate with another top save, a goal that takes Postecoglou’s free-flowing champions-elect to 85 for the league season.
Table of Contents
Man of the match – Jota
What did we learn?
“We don’t stop” is the message that has been rhymed off continuously by Postecoglou this season. That relentless nature was on show again as the Celtic boss hailed his side’s “outstanding” reaction to going a goal down.
After coming in as an unknown quantity and enduring a rocky start to life in Glasgow, it has been a remarkable turnaround from the former Australia manager, who has overseen a massive rebuild while driving the club on to a 10th title in 11 seasons.
It is now 30 league matches undefeated for Celtic, their longest streak since Brendan Rodgers guided them to a 56-game run between May 2016 and December 2017.
The defeat does not alter Hearts’ league position, but Neilson can be pleased with his side’s performances against the Old Firm this season.
Prior to O’Riley adding Celtic’s third, the Tynecastle club pushed the hosts in the preceding 70 minutes, a common theme in the clashes this season that have seen Hearts earn an opening-day win in July before running the leaders close in the two league games in the winter.
Another positive for Neilson was the return of the influential Kingsley to the starting line-up, while fellow defenders John Souttar and Michael Smith, plus midfielder Cammy Devlin, were fit enough for the bench.
If the Tynecastle medical team can get as many players as possible off the treatment table and fit for the Scottish Cup final against Rangers in a fortnight, it gives Neilson’s side every chance.
What did they say?
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou: “I’m really proud of the group. We went a goal down early and you wonder how they’re going to react, knowing there’s a nervousness around the stadium.
“But this group of players refuses to lose belief and they are just relentless. Our football was outstanding. The players have bought into the team we want to be. It’s been a massive collective effort.”
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson: “Until Celtic scored, we controlled where the game was getting played.
“But they are very good team and if you give them opportunities they’ll score goals. We scored a wee bit too early to be honest.”
Both teams play their penultimate games of the season on Wednesday as Celtic are at Dundee United (19:30 BST) and Hearts travel to Motherwell (19:45).
Player of the match
with an average of 8.05
Squad number38Player nameMaeda
Squad number42Player nameMcGregor
Squad number17Player nameJota
Squad number8Player nameFuruhashi
Squad number33Player nameO’Riley
Squad number7Player nameGiakoumakis
Squad number20Player nameCarter-Vickers
Squad number11Player nameAbada
Squad number41Player nameHatate
Squad number3Player nameTaylor
Squad number49Player nameForrest
Squad number14Player nameTurnbull
Squad number18Player nameRogic
Squad number4Player nameStarfelt
Squad number15Player nameHart
Squad number56Player nameRalston
Heart of Midlothian
Squad number1Player nameGordon
Squad number20Player nameSimms
Squad number3Player nameKingsley
Squad number17Player nameCochrane
Squad number30Player nameGinnelly
Squad number10Player nameBoyce
Squad number15Player nameMoore
Squad number5Player nameHaring
Squad number21Player nameSibbick
Squad number18Player nameMcKay
Squad number48Player nameThomas
Squad number11Player nameMackay-Steven
Squad number9Player nameWoodburn
Squad number12Player nameAtkinson
- 33O’RileySubstituted forRogicat 77′minutes
- 14TurnbullSubstituted forHatateat 64′minutes
- 17Neves FilipeSubstituted forForrestat 81′minutes
- 8FuruhashiSubstituted forGiakoumakisat 64′minutes
- 38MaedaSubstituted forAbadaat 64′minutes
- 5HaringBooked at 37mins
- 21SibbickBooked at 31mins
- 30GinnellySubstituted forWoodburnat 81′minutes
- 18McKaySubstituted forThomasat 89′minutes
- 20SimmsSubstituted forMackay-Stevenat 75′minutes
Match ends, Celtic 4, Heart of Midlothian 1.
Second Half ends, Celtic 4, Heart of Midlothian 1.
Foul by Liel Abada (Celtic).
Stephen Kingsley (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by Craig Gordon.
Attempt saved. Liel Abada (Celtic) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Giorgos Giakoumakis with a through ball.
Goal! Celtic 4, Heart of Midlothian 1. Giorgos Giakoumakis (Celtic) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by James Forrest.
Attempt blocked. Liel Abada (Celtic) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Reo Hatate (Celtic) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Giorgos Giakoumakis.
Substitution, Heart of Midlothian. Murray Thomas replaces Barrie McKay.
Foul by Reo Hatate (Celtic).
Peter Haring (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Reo Hatate (Celtic) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by James Forrest.
Attempt saved. James Forrest (Celtic) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Greg Taylor.
Attempt saved. Liam Boyce (Heart of Midlothian) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Barrie McKay.
Substitution, Heart of Midlothian. Ben Woodburn replaces Josh Ginnelly.
Substitution, Celtic. James Forrest replaces Jota.
Offside, Celtic. Tomas Rogic tries a through ball, but Liel Abada is caught offside.
Offside, Celtic. Liel Abada tries a through ball, but Jota is caught offside.
Substitution, Celtic. Tomas Rogic replaces Matt O’Riley.