Celtic put pressure on Rangers with comfortable win over Hearts

Celtic moved six points ahead of their rivals with three games left to play.

Celtic put pressure on Rangers with comfortable win over Hearts SNS Group

Kyogo Furuhashi struck his first double of the season as Celtic’s 3-0 victory over Hearts maintained the prospect of a title party against Rangers.

The Japanese attacker was on target twice in the first quarter and Matt O’Riley converted a late penalty as the cinch Premiership leaders moved six points and eight goals ahead of Rangers, who host Kilmarnock on Sunday.

Anything less than a Rangers win against the Ayrshire side would give Celtic the chance to clinch a third consecutive title when they host their city rivals next Saturday.

Even if Rangers beat Kilmarnock, a derby win for Brendan Rodgers’ side would leave them on the verge of championship success and they warmed up for the biggest game of the season with an impressive display at a noisy Celtic Park.

A string of saves from Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark prevented Celtic from further consolidating their goal difference advantage.

Hearts had won the previous two meetings between the teams but Celtic were at full strength for the first time this season after Daizen Maeda recovered from a hamstring injury to take his place on the bench.

The visitors gave as good as they got in the opening stages and came close to a first-minute lead.

Lawrence Shankland looked certain to score after Dexter Lembikisa’s cutback but Cameron Carter-Vickers threw himself in the way of the striker’s effort to divert the ball behind for a corner.

The home side were ahead in the fourth minute after Clark punched O’Riley’s corner out to the edge of the box. Reo Hatate lobbed the ball back into the goalmouth for Furuhashi to nod home.

Although Shankland had retreated to the line, there was a close VAR check for offside as Clark was initially ahead of the Celtic striker as Hatate collected the ball.

Hearts soon threatened again when Joe Hart produced a brilliant one-handed stop from Cammy Devlin’s volley and Carter-Vickers headed just over as the end-to-end action continued.

Celtic doubled their lead in the 21st minute after O’Riley lofted a ball over the top of the visiting defence. Furuhashi cushioned a volley with his weaker right foot into the bottom corner of the net.

Celtic finished the half strongly and Clark made saves from Greg Taylor, O’Riley and Furuhashi, each of them better than the previous one.

The league leaders continued where they left off after the break and Clark made a double stop from Hatate and O’Riley before James Forrest twice came close.

The noise of the home fans increased as Celtic looked to boost their goal difference and sliding tackles from Callum McGregor and Furuhashi as they tracked back sparked ovations not far off what had greeted the goals.

Hearts had one second-half chance but Hart stood up to make a last-ditch stop from Yutaro Oda after the Japanese attacker had played a one-two with fellow substitute Scott Fraser.

O’Riley slammed an 87th-minute penalty into the top corner after Shankland was penalised for handball after referee Kevin Clancy had been called to his monitor.

Substitute Maeda was denied by Clark from close range and the Green Brigade supporters declared themselves “impatient for the coming fight” with a banner that sparked chants of “bring on the Rangers” in the closing stages.

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