For the second time in a week, Gordon Strachan was left speechless. This time it was not a dismissal from a referee, but the quality of his side's sublime performance that swept Heart of Midlothian aside yesterday. "That was fantastic football," declared the Celtic manager.
The rout was perfect preparation for Wednesday's Champions' League third qualifying round second leg with Spartak Moscow after a 1-1 draw in Russia as Shunsuke Nakamura's inspiration kept the Scottish Premier League champions in pursuit of Rangers. "Hearts are a team who have given us trouble here and I'll savour this before Spartak," added Strachan.
On Hearts' last visit to the east end of Glasgow, they had spoiled Celtic's title party by winning there as Strachan's team were presented with the SPL trophy. Whether it was the memory of that day last May or simply a response to the manager's plea to make an earlier impact in games, the champions simply blew Hearts away in the first half.
It took Nakamura just nine minutes and a bit of assistance to break the deadlock. The Japanese playmaker was an unlikely person to finish off a flowing move that ended with Scott McDonald clipping a cutback across the box, missing out the obvious target of the towering Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to allow Nakamura a clear sight of goal with his shot that deflected off Christophe Berra on its way into the net.
It was Massimo Donati who doubled Celtic's lead in the 22nd minute, gathering the ball in the inside-right position and advancing towards the box before bursting past two tackles and then steering an angled right-foot shot beyond goalkeeper Steve Banks for his second goal in two games.
If Celtic felt short-changed at just two first-half goals, their reward came in the second 45 minutes. Scott Brown scored his first goal for his new club in the 61st minute. It was a move that owed much to Aiden McGeady's skill and energy, cutting back inside Robbie Neilson and crossing for Vennegoor at the back post. The Dutch striker's knockdown was stabbed in by Brown.
Celtic made it 4-0 when Hearts captain Berra tugged Nakamura's shirt back for a clear penalty that was buried by Vennegoor. Brown inflicted further pain in the 78th minute when he robbed Michael Stewart, skipped past Christos Karipides and then unselfishly set up Nakamura for a deft finish.Reuse content