GLASGOW (AFP) - Celtic stayed top of the Scottish Premier League on goal difference from Rangers after running out 3-0 winners over Hearts on Saturday 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 with a goal on the break that had more than a hint of off-side.
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 warmed up for their Champions League clash against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday with a last gasp 2-1 win away to Hamilton.
In what was his first start since his move from Rapid Vienna Nikica Jelavic headed Rangers into a sixth-minute lead before a second-half own goal from Madjid Bougherra hauled Hamilton level.
However substitute Kenny Miller came to the rescue when his 90th-minute lob preserved the Ibrox side's 100 percent start to the league campaign.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon said his side had been sloppy in possession early on against Hearts.
"It took us 20 minutes to get a foothold in the game. At 2-0 you are not relaxed until the third goal goes in," he said.
"There are aspects we need to improve on but overall I'm very pleased."
Jim Jefferies, who was sent to the stand for his reaction to Celtic's first goal, said referee Willie Collum had blundered by allowing the strike to stand. "There was no arguing about it, the boy was clearly offside," the Hearts boss said.
"You go from a situation where you are thinking that we were unlucky not to be 1-0 up then suddenly we are 1-0 down because of something you need someone to do their job properly and they didn't."
At Celtic Park, Hearts were without Lee Wallace and Marius Zaliukas to injury while Celtic handed a first start to Anthony Stokes who partnered Murphy up front.
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 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, who looked off-side, 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.
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.
|Coach: N. Lennon|
for S. Brown 61'
for D. Murphy 69'
for A. Stokes 77'
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