Griffiths at the double as Celtic rout Hearts
GLASGOW: Leigh Griffiths struck twice as Celtic made a flying start to their Scottish Premiership title defence with a 4-1 thrashing of Hearts yesterday. Griffiths opened the scoring in the 29th minute before Scott Sinclair made it 2-0 five minutes after the break at Parkhead.
The Scotland striker’s diving header added to Celtic’s advantage before Callum McGregor’s unstoppable strike made it four in the 73rd minute. Hearts, with under-20s coach Jon Daly in interim charge following Ian Cathro’s sacking in midweek, grabbed a late consolation through substitute Isma Goncalves.
The manner of Celtic’s win sends out a warning to the rest of the league that the Hoops, who collected a treble last season as they finished the campaign unbeaten, will be hard to stop as they chase a seventh successive title. The noise before kick-off was deafening as captain Scott Brown, in his testimonial year with the Hoops, unveiled the championship flag.
However, the atmosphere soon became strangely subdued, not helped by the notable absence of Ultras group The Green Brigade, who were serving the second of a two-game stadium ban following their display of paramilitary style banners at their Champions League qualifier against Linfield.
Nir Bitton had a chance to lift the home support early on when he got on the end of an in-swinging corner from Griffiths but the Israeli international sent his header into the side-netting. Celtic should have been in front in the 25th minute when Griffiths was sent clean through by Sinclair, but the striker lashed his effort wide with only the ‘keeper to beat.
Griffiths made amends four minutes later as he fired Celtic in front when he latched on to Bitton’s fabulous long ball and slotted home at the second attempt after his first effort was stopped by Jack Hamilton.
The second half was barely five minutes old when Sinclair made it 2-0. Hearts captain Christophe Berra fluffed his attempted clearance of a Griffiths corner and the ball landed to the English winger at the far post, allowing him to tap in from close range.
Sinclair then played a part in Celtic’s third goal as he slipped a pass through to McGregor whose fine cross was headed home by Griffiths from six yards out. Sinclair was the architect of Celtic’s fourth goal as he raced at the retreating Hearts rearguard before picking out McGregor, who sent a fierce left-foot strike into the roof of the net.
Hearts did manage to pull one back in the 84th minute. Goncalves held off the challenge of Jozo Simunovic before firing home from a tight angle.