Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers hailed his players for meeting their Tynecastle challenge with some “wonderful football” in a 4-1 win over Hearts.
The cinch Premiership leaders restored their seven-point lead with a largely dominant display in front of 576 of their own fans in a reduced allocation and more than 17,000 Hearts supporters.
Matt O’Riley volleyed his sixth goal of the season inside four minutes and Celtic remained in control. Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi netted before the 51st minute and Reo Hatate hit the post with a penalty.
Lawrence Shankland pulled one back in the 64th minute but substitute Tomoki Iwata fired his first goal for Celtic to kill off any slim hopes of a comeback.
Rodgers said: “It was important that we started the game well, and try to bring an energy and speed to the game which would make it difficult for Hearts, because I have been here enough times to know that if you don’t make a good start here it can be a challenge.
“But the players played some wonderful football and worked ever so hard.”
Celtic have now won six consecutive league matches and appear to be finding more fluidity in their play.
Rodgers said: “It’s a constant evolution, there’s not a destination to where we want to go, it’s just continual improvement and finding levels and the big thing is consistency.
“It’s obviously a very difficult ground to come to but I love challenges like this, coming to really hostile environments because it’s an opportunity for you to show your value as a team, dealing with difficult circumstances, and the players dealt with it ever so well.
“The only criticism is we could have scored more goals and managed the ball a bit better after we scored the fourth goal, so we didn’t have to run so much.
“But overall, after an international break, where a lot of these guys were a wee bit heavy-legged towards the end, a lot of travel, what they gave the game was absolutely brilliant.”
Hearts manager Steven Naismith bemoaned his side’s start and the way they allowed Celtic chances.
Naismith started with a positive line-up with Kenneth Vargas told to run beyond Shankland and Alan Forrest and Alex Lowry supporting the front players. But their chances when undermined when O’Riley ran away from marker Calem Nieuwenhof and volleyed home Luis Palma’s lofted pass.
“We gave up really sloppy goals,” said Naismith, whose team let slip a two-goal lead against Hibernian in their previous match.
“That’s the last two games that the goals we conceded are not at the level where we should be at and want to be at. How sloppy they were and when we concede them is mental.
“It doesn’t give you a chance to get into the game when you lose a goal after three minutes. And that was the theme throughout the game, the goals are avoidable.
“Our intensity when we are pressing and closing down wasn’t good enough and in the game there are split-seconds when players are making decisions and ultimately they are going to decide if it’s a good action or bad action. Every goal we picked the wrong action.”