The eternal rivals duel here on Thursday with a place in the Scottish Cup semi-finals at stake, then meet again on 16 March in the Premier League, with the champions' slip at Aberdeen yesterday reducing their lead to five points.
While Celtic enjoyed the sweet taste of progress to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup in midweek, Hearts made their exit from the same competition, leaving the rest of their season a flat affair. What really interested the bulk of the crowd, though, was the debut of Celtic's new Italian player Enrico Annoni. The fearsome Roma defender has been bought to cure what has been traditionally the Parkhead club's Achilles heel.
However, once the game was under way it was clear that the key role was more likely to be filled by a capricious wind which played havoc with every player's ability to read the movement of the ball. Hearts' midfielder Gary Mackay tried to cure that too literally in the 10th minute and was booked for knocking the ball out of di Canio's path with his hand.
The Hearts goalkeeper, Gilles Rousset, used his fists to more legitimate effect, producing two fine saves within three minutes to keep Celtic out. First, he got down superbly at his near post to claw away a di Canio free- kick, then, in the 15th minute, the French keeper's 6ft 5in frame enabled him to reach Alan Stubbs' scorching 30-yard free-kick.
In the 23rd minute, Annoni hauled Neil McCann down and received a yellow card. That kind of bald cheek may receive only a knowing Latin nod in Serie A but in Scotland it meets with stern Calvinist punishment.
Celtic thought they had broken the deadlock in the 27th minute when Malky Mackay's header was cleared off the line by Colin Cameron and then Stubbs' shot through a ruck of players sat up perfectly for Phil O'Donnell only to then elude the midfielder just three yards out.
The inevitable was delayed by only 60 seconds when Jorge Cadete put Celtic ahead with a goal of stunning simplicity. Andreas Thom exposed Hearts on the right before finding his prolific Portuguese partner at the back post to head powerfully his 28th goal of the season.
Cameron was booked in the 37th minute for halting Thom's run and seven minutes later Hearts' teenage defender Gary Naysmith denied Thom again, this time clearing the forwards' shot off the line.
Hearts' midfielder Stefano Salvatori followed his compatriot Annoni into the referee's book when he fouled Cadete on the edge of the area in the 51st minute. Di Canio's free-kick curled just inches over the bar of Rousset.
However, Celtic's frustrations were removed four minutes later when di Canio gave them a two-goal cushion. The move was started by David Hannah, who set Thom free to race into the box before intelligently cutting the ball back into di Canio's path for the former Milan player to volley past Rousset.Reuse content