Celtic coach Brendan Rodgers praised his players for “wonderful football” in the 4-1 win over Hearts. The Premiership leaders restored their seven-point lead with a largely dominant performance in front of 576 of their own fans in a reduced crowd and more than 17,000 Hearts fans.
“It was important that we started the game well and tried to bring an energy and speed to the game that would make it difficult for Hearts because I’ve been here enough times to know that you don’t have one here “It can be a challenge,” said Rodgers. “But the players played wonderful football and worked incredibly hard.”
Matt O’Riley scored his sixth goal of the season within four minutes and Celtic remained in control. Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi scored before the 51st minute and Reo Hatate hit the post with a penalty.
Lawrence Shankland equalized in the 64th minute, but substitute Tomoki Iwata scored his first goal for Celtic, ending any faint hopes of a comeback. Celtic have now won six league games in a row and appear to be becoming more fluid in their game.
Rodgers said: “It’s a constant evolution, there’s no destination where we want to go.” It’s just about continuous improvement and finding levels and the most important thing is consistency.
“Obviously it’s very difficult terrain, but I love challenges like this, coming into really hostile environments, because it’s an opportunity for you to prove your worth as a team, to deal with difficult circumstances and the players are very handled it well.” .
“The only criticism is that after the fourth goal we could have scored more goals and managed the ball a little better so we didn’t have to run so much. But overall, after an international break where a lot of these guys were a bit sluggish towards the end and were on the move a lot, what they gave to the game was absolutely brilliant.”
Hearts manager Steven Naismith lamented his side’s start and the way they gave Celtic chances. Naismith started with a positive line-up, with Kenneth Vargas instructed to run past Shankland and Alan Forrest and Alex Lowry supporting the forwards. But their chances were dashed when O’Riley ran away from his guard Calem Nieuwenhof and volleyed Luis Palma’s high pass into the goal.
“We conceded really sloppy goals,” said Naismith, whose team blew a two-goal lead in their last game against Hibernian. “In the last two games the goals conceded were not at the level we should and want to be at. How sloppy they were and when we admit them is mental.
“There is no chance of getting into the game if you lose a goal after three minutes. And that was the theme throughout the game, the goals were avoidable.
“Our intensity in pressing and closing wasn’t good enough and in the game there are split seconds in which players make decisions and ultimately decide whether it is a good or a bad action. “We chose the wrong action for every goal.”