A confident Celtic title chant warns Rangers of their immovability as the real fun arrives – Parkhead analysis

Matt O'Riley -Credit:SNS Group
Matt O'Riley -Credit:SNS Group

Scoreboard pressure is how Brendan Rodgers described Celtic’s chance to crank up the title tension on Rangers.

By 4.55pm yesterday, the huge electric screens beamed out a 3-0 victory over Hearts and the bullish Bhoys in the stands screamed ‘Bring on the Rangers’ as the screw turned that bit tighter ahead of Gers’ clash with Kilmarnock today. But it was a message delivered on the park that spoke loudest, seven days before the potentially decisive final Old Firm clash of the Premiership campaign.

Kyogo got his first double of the season as Celtic made another confident step towards retaining their title. This was a Hoops side close to playing their best stuff of the season before Matt O’Riley put the gloss on the afternoon with a late third from the spot. If timing really is everything in football then Rodgers’ side appear to be clicking into top gear at exactly the right moment.

Their talismanic No.8 back to his predatory best in the box, a clean sheet and a dominant display against a side that had troubled them all season. On top of all that, the all-important connection is back with the stands and Celtic are in a great place heading into next week’s Old Firm clash here, which could all but seal a third successive crown. It was party mode at full-time as ‘We shall not be moved’ boomed round the ground.

It’s a far cry from the rumblings of discontent that echoed round Parkhead last time the Jambos were in town. That day, in mid December, saw Steven Naismith’s side leave with a 2-0 victory. And with Rodgers’ side having lost at Kilmarnock on their previous outing, the fans turned on the board in furious fashion. Indeed, Hearts were looking to secure a third successive victory over Celtic for the first time in 63 years.

But from the moment Kyogo kept his cool to make it 2-0 after 21 minutes there was only ever going to be one winner. The Japanese ace reckons he’s still more in the tank for the push towards a Double. He said: “Obviously, there’s been ups and downs. But now towards the end of the season everyone’s sticking together and doing what we have to do.

“We are going in the right direction but we’re not there yet. All we can do is prepare ourselves every day and see how it goes. But we will try to do our best on the day.” Hearts made the brighter start. Lawrence Shankland, who had scored in the three earlier meetings with Celtic, had an effort on goal after just a minute.

It was a neat move on the right that saw Dexter Lembikisa cut the ball back into the path of the frontman and his low effort was blocked for a corner. But the Hoops got their noses in front just three minutes later. O’Riley’s flag kick from the right was punched clear by Zander Clark – but the keeper’s swipe only travelled as far as Reo Hatate on the edge of the D.

The midfielder lifted the ball right back into the danger area for his compatriot to flash a header into the net. Hearts appealed for offside but the VAR team gave the goal a clean bill of health – just . The Jambos were giving as good as they got though. And but for a superb Joe Hart save after 10 minutes the score would have been level. Cammy Devlin had far too much space in the box from Jorge Grant’s pass and his effort looked destined for the corner only for Hart to claw it to safety.

Kyogo knocks in the second -Credit:SNS Group
Kyogo knocks in the second -Credit:SNS Group

For a man in the final three weeks of a remarkable career the 37-year-old keeper is showing no signs of slowing down. Despite the lead, Celtic were struggling to find their flow and Cameron Carter-Vickers had to be alert to snuff out a couple of attacks in his own area. Hearts were playing neat stuff. They have a clear confidence on the ball under Naismith. But they also looked open to be hit on the counter. And that’s exactly what happened in 21 minutes as Kyogo again showed his deadly side from eight yards.

Hearts gave up possession cheaply near the halfway line and, in a flash, a perfectly-weighted ball into the box from O’Riley on the left caught Kye Rowles sleeping – and left the Japanese goal machine staring down Clark’s throat. There was plenty left to do though and Kyogo showed a touch of class to produce a first-time finish as the ball fell out the sky and Clark advanced.

Suddenly Celtic were in total control and Rodgers’ side went through the gears as Callum McGregor, Hatate and O’Riley dictated play. Greg Taylor saw a drive held by the keeper, O’Riley saw a 20-yard shot touched wide and Clark produced a brilliant fingertip save to deny Kyogo a treble as Celts looked to kill off Hearts by half-time.

Kyogo was desperate to grab his hat-trick but was just out of reach of O’Riley’s first-time volley across the six-yard box. Moments later Rowles got back to block as Kyogo prepared to pull the trigger.

Hatate and O’Riley were then denied by a Clark double save as the Hoops turned the screw. If Hearts weren’t chasing shadows enough Rodgers threw on fit-again running machine Daizen Maeda, Adam Idah and Tomoki Iwata for the final 20 minutes.

But it was at the other end Hart had to use his huge frame to deny Hearts sub Yutaro Oda as he burst into the box. Celtic did get their third though – from the spot – after Luis Palma’s corner came off the hand of Shankland.

And O’Riley made no mistake from 12 yards, wrong-footing Clark with a left- foot effort into the top corner.