Despite a fine performance for large spells of the game, and the majority of possession, ten-man Hearts fell to a 3-1 defeat at the home of champions Celtic in this Saturday lunchtime clash.
Taking the lead through Jamie Walker’s fine long range effort, the Jambos were then pegged back by some superb finishing from Gary Mackay-Steven and Patrick Roberts. In stoppage time, Juwon Oshaniwa saw red for a second bookable offence.
Hearts made five changes to the side that was defeated by St Johnstone prior to the international break. Out went Liam Smith, Jordan McGhee, Don Cowie, Blazej Augustyn and Abiola Dauda.
Replacing them, in a 3-5-2 formation, were Igor Rossi, Alim Ozturk, Juwon Oshaniwa, Prince Buaben and Sam Nicholson, as the away side attempted to recover from their disappointing last match.
Hearts started brightly and were rewarded, as Juanma held off Erik Sviatchenko to allow Jamie Walker to nip in and fire a stunning effort into the top corner beyond Craig Gordon.
Despite controlling the game, Celtic equalised against the run of play. After Neil Alexander saved a Leigh Griffiths free-kick, Hearts couldn’t clear the ball from the resulting corner and Gary Mackay-Steven rifled the ball home to level things.
Two minutes later, Alexander was called into action once more. Tom Rogic played in Griffiths, who took the ball wide, but the keeper was equal to his right footed effort.
Hearts were next to threaten, with a superb bit of play linking Juwon Oshaniwa, Arnaud Djoum and Walker. Djoum dribbled into the box, but dragged his shot wide of the post.
Alim Ozturk was then close to putting Hearts ahead once more. Scott Brown was booked for a late challenge on Juanma, and the Hearts skipper’s free kick crashed off the bar and over.
Ten minutes before the break, Celtic took the lead. Rogic won the ball deep in the Hearts half, and played in Patrick Roberts who coolly chipped Alexander.
Griffiths came close to scoring again, as two free kicks in quick succession drew superb saves from Alexander.
The home side started on the front foot in the second half, and extended their lead through Roberts’ second. The winger cut inside from the right and bent a lovely effort past Alexander into the bottom corner.
Hearts tried to respond, but with Celtic content to play on the counter, a change in formation was required. A switch to 4-4-2, with Gavin Reilly and Liam Smith coming on, was Robbie Neilson’s next move.
Sam Nicholson tried his best to reduce the arrears, but his low shot was comfortably saved by Gordon. Then, an Oshaniwa free kick found Ozturk at the back post, but his header was straight at the ex-Hearts keeper.
Celtic attempted to extend their lead, as Hearts pushed to get back into the match. Beating Smith, sub Callum McGregor broke into the box but his shot was well saved by Alexander.
Abiola Dauda then had a header superbly saved by Gordon with a couple of minutes remaining as Hearts never gave up hope, and from the corner, Reilly headed over the bar.
Right at the death, Juwon Oshaniwa was sent off in time added on for a second booking after trying to win the ball in the middle of the park.
A result that flattered the hosts, as Hearts were punished by some clinical finishing by the home side. With seven games remaining, Hearts now head to Inverness to continue their hunt for European football.
Celtic: Gordon, Brown, Griffiths (Kazim-Richards, 77'), Mackay-Steven (McGregor, 67'), Rogic (Bitton, 44'), Boyata, Lustig, Johanson, Roberts, Sviatchenko, Tierney. Subs: Fasan, Ambrose, Commons, Forrest.
Hearts: Alexander, Souttar, Ozturk, Rossi (L. Smith, 64'), Oshaniwa, Nicholson, Djoum, Kitchen, Buaben (Dauda, 81'), Walker (Reilly, 64'), Juanma. Subs: Hamilton, Augustyn, McGhee, Pallardo.
Referee: Bobby Madden
Top man: Arnaud Djoum