Neil Lennon's side move five points clear of second-placed Rangers
Wednesday 18 December 2019 23:17, UK
Celtic recovered from a slow start to win 2-0 at Hearts and move five points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Ryan Christie netted with the champions' first shot on target in the 28th minute and Olivier Ntcham doubled the advantage with a masterful first-time finish five minutes before the break.
The visitors had further chances but Hearts gave new boss Daniel Stendel some encouragement with the way they kept on trying to get back into the game after losing their shape for the period between the opener and half-time.
The result ensured Celtic utilised one of the games that was rearranged from their Betfred Cup run with Rangers now on a game in hand. Hearts avoided going bottom by one goal but face basement side Hamilton on Saturday.
Stendel made five changes after his side delivered a limp display in a 1-0 home defeat by St Johnstone in his first match. Joel Pereira, Jamie Brandon, Craig Wighton and Loic Damour came in and Jake Mulraney returned from suspension, while right-back Michael Smith moved into midfield. Jamie Walker missed out completely.
Christie and Jonny Hayes came back from injury for Celtic, who struggled to get the ball down from the start, although Ntcham was an exception.
Stendel got the effort and fight he had demanded as Hearts started on the front foot, turning the Celtic defence whenever they had the chance.
It was pretty basic stuff but the long-suffering home fans roared their approval and Oli Bozanic managed a couple of decent efforts - a low shot that Fraser Forster held and a header which glanced not far wide.
The Australian also squandered some set-pieces and Hearts found themselves behind against the run of play.
James Forrest played a one-two with Odsonne Edouard to put Hearts on the back foot before Christie took over and drilled a 20-yard strike just inside the post.
Forrest had drifted inside limping right-back Brandon and Stendel swapped him for Sean Clare, who was booed on by a small section of the home fans. Despite Smith's presence, Clare lined up at right-back and Celtic began cutting open the home defence at will.
Edouard was sent clear after Callum McGregor dispossessed Smith but the Frenchman took a heavy touch. Forrest missed the target after a one-two with Ntcham left him one-on-one with Pereira.
Hearts were exposed again moments later when Scott Brown won the ball and released Forrest, whose low cross from the left was swept home by Ntcham.
Stendel replaced Bozanic with Glenn Whelan at half-time and his team rediscovered their early impetus with Clare coming close after a positive run into the box.
Hearts also delivered some decent balls into the box but they were living dangerously at the back.
McGregor was flagged offside after netting from close range and Edouard headed against a post before forcing a good save from Pereira after being left unmarked from a free-kick.
Stendel was forced into another change on the hour mark when Mulraney limped off and Pereira came to the hosts' rescue again after Forrest played in McGregor.
Hearts rallied and pushed Celtic back for much of the final quarter without troubling Forster.