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  • Record-breaking Celts dispatch Hearts in Paradise to become Invincibles

    Record-breaking Celts dispatch Hearts in Paradise to become Invincibles

    By: Mark Henderson on 21 May, 2017 14:41

  • Scottish Premiership
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Sunday, May 21, 2017

    CELTIC...2
    (Griffiths 50, Armstrong 76)

    HEARTS...0

    SECOND-HALF goals from Leigh Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong saw Celtic dispatch Hearts and make history by going the full league season undefeated on the day the six-in-a-row champions were presented with the Scottish Premiership trophy.  

    It was the Hoops’ 34th victory from 38 matches, and they finished the campaign with 106 points and 106 goals – all new records in a sensational first season under Brendan Rodgers.

    ‘The Invincibles’ had to wait until the second half to find a way through a defensive Hearts side, with Griffiths opening the scoring when he headed home a cross from the impressive Patrick Roberts.

    As the game entered its closing stages, Stuart Armstrong secured the win and Celtic’s place in the record books with close-range finish to get the party started in earnest in preparation for the trophy presentation.

    And there could be further silverware on the horizon for the Bhoys, who are now undefeated in 46 matches since the start of the season, to celebrate as they aim to complete the treble in next weeks’ Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen.  

    Brendan Rodgers had made four changes to the Celtic team that brushed aside Patrick Thistle 5-0 on Thursday night in the penultimate match of the season. Jozo Simunovic, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong and Scott Sinclair all came back into the side, with Erik Sviatchenko, Emilio Izaguirre, Tom Rogic and James Forrest dropping out.

    The champions walked out to a stunning stadium-wide tribute to the Lisbon Lions four on the 50th anniversary of their fairytale European Cup triumph. That simply added to the raucous atmosphere inside the ground which was packed to the gunnels by supporters hoping to see their side create another piece of history.  

    Against a Hearts team intent on protecting their goal, deploying every man behind the ball, the Hoops found it tough to fashion chances in the opening exchanges, and it took until the 15th minute for Leigh Griffiths to register the first shot on goal when the striker lashed a free-kick into the side-netting.

    Tierney was next to try his luck, sending a rasping 30-yard drive inches over, before Armstrong was off target was distance.

    Callum McGregor finally forced former Celt Viktor Noring into action in the 24th minute after a lovely turn but his shot was straight at the Swedish shot-stopper.

    Content to line up outside their own box, the visitors did got their first meaningful sight of goal from a set-piece, with Alexandros Tzolis firing over from 20 yards.

    Patrick Roberts, who had been in sensational form, was doing his utmost to unlock the Hearts rearguard but, after twisting and turning away from several challenges, he couldn’t steer his shot on target.   

    Just after the hour-mark, the Bhoys started to crank up the pressure. From Griffiths’ corner, Boyata found himself in space but his volley was blocked at point-blank range by Noring.

    Roberts then left the Hearts backline in spin with mazy run to the byline. Pinball ensued as the capital side struggled to clear his cutback, with Armstrong having a penalty claim turned down when his shot struck an arm.  

    The hosts continued the offensive but the breakthrough remained elusive as McGregor curled over after being picked out by Sinclair, before Griffiths looped a header over from Tierney’s cross.

    At the other end, another free-kick gave Bjorn Johnsen the opportunity to test Craig Gordon, the striker curling wide.

    Brendan Rodgers sent on Tom Rogic for Cristian Gamboa at the start of the second half to add invention to the Hoops attack, and it quickly paid dividends as Celtic broke the deadlock.

    Roberts, now operating as a right wing-back engineered some space before delivering a pinpoint cross for Griffiths, whose downward header left Noring with no chance.

    The same combination almost saw the hit-man grab a quick-fire double. Fastening onto Roberts’ lofted pass, Griffiths did well to bring the ball down but this time the angle was too acute to find the net.

    Celtic were now beginning to find their normal rhythm and fluency and Brown saw a shot blocked by Noring after the ball had ricocheted around the Hearts area, with Armstrong also having another penalty appeal waved away after going to ground in the box.  

    Roberts was now in full flow, and another sublime piece of skill from the English youngster had the home crowd on their feet as he danced along the byline and sent across a dangerous delivery that had no takers.  The 20-year-old, making his final home appearance of an 18-month loan spell from Manchester City, then wasn’t far away from distance.

    A low shot from Johnsen briefly brought an end to the one-traffic, before Armstrong dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box – but the midfielder wasn’t to be denied as sealed the victory with 14 minutes left.

    Griffiths was the architect, speeding down the right and when he delivered a low ball into the mix, Armstrong’s desire saw him win the ball and then steer a shot beyond Noring.  

    As the clock ticked down, Hearts had a flurry of chances as they committed men forward, with Johnsen hitting the bar with a header, Kolo Toure blocking a shot and Gordon making a smart save from Malauray Martin.

    And once the final whistle sounded, it was time for Scott Brown to lift the silverware and for the manager, his backroom team and the players to take the acclaim of 60,000 euphoric supporters on a memorable day in Paradise.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Gamboa (Rogic 46), Simunovic (Toure 74), Boyata, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong (Sviatchenko 78); Roberts, McGregor, Sinclair; Griffiths
    Not Used: De Vries, Toure, Forrest, Kouassi

    HEARTS (5-4-1) Noring; Brandon, Nowak, Bauben (Walker 65), Hughes, Smith; Cowie, Tzoli (Henderson 78), Djoum, Gonvcalves (Martin 55); Johnsen
    Not Used: Hamilton, Kitchen, Avionitis, Choulay

    Website Man of the Match: Patrick Roberts

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