Celtic, Rangers open six-point gap
Celtic stayed top of the Scottish Premier League on goal difference from Rangers after running out 3-0 winners over Hearts today as the Old Firm rivals went six points clear.
Hearts had looked the more likely to score before Jamie Forrest tapped in Daryl Murphy's cross to give the Hoops the lead. Shaun Maloney doubled the lead just before half-time and substitute Paddy McCourt rounded off the win with a superb individual goal in injury time as Celtic made it four wins out of four.
Rangers had earlier warmed up for their UEFA Champions League clash against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday with a last gasp 2-1 win away to Hamilton.
At Celtic Park, Hearts were without the injured Lee Wallace and Marius Zaliukas while Celtic handed a first start to Anthony Stokes who partnered Murphy up front. And it was the debutant who had the first chance of the match when he fired a low drive just wide of the post after being given time and space by the Hearts defence.
Kevin Kyle was then presented with a golden opportunity to open the scoring for Hearts. David Templeton's corner found him unmarked at the back post but his header was blocked on the line by Fraser Foster.
Hearts were rocked when Celtic took the lead with a goal from a quick counter-attack in the 28th minute. Suso Santana cracked a fierce shot off Foster's post and a ball from defence sent Murphy racing clear. The Irishman's cross from the right got stuck under the feet of Darren Barr allowing Forrest to tap in at the back post.
Celtic should have doubled their lead in the 43rd minute when Forrest sent the ball across goal but Maloney hesitated when all he had to do was tap into an empty net. However, Maloney made amends a minute later when he made it 2-0 - Stokes sent the Scotland star clear and he rounded Marian Kello and sent a low shot into the net past the outstretched legs of Eggert Jonsson.
Murphy created a chance for himself soon after the break when he barged Jonsson off the ball but Kello gathered the ball at his feet as he tried to round the keeper.
At the other end the pace of Suso was causing Celtic problems and Foster had to be alert to beat away his stinging strike from 15 yards.
Georgios Samaras replaced Murphy and the Greek immediately had the ball in the net after rounding Kello but it was ruled out for offside. Substitute McCourt completed the win with a superb solo goal in injury time. The Northern Irishman beat three Hearts players before dinking the ball over the head of the out-rushing Kello.
Elsewhere, Dundee United defeated Aberdeen 3-1, Motherwell won 2-0 away to St Johnstone, Kilmarnock ran out 2-1 winners over St Mirren and Hibs and Inverness drew 1-1.