13 February 2020 00:30

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Celtic hammer Hearts and Rangers crumble at Kilmarnock on pivotal night in Scottish Premiership title race

On what had the feel of a pivotal evening in the Scottish title race, Celtic routed Hearts as Rangers crumbled at Kilmarnock, despite having posted an early lead in Ayrshire. The upshot is that the Hoops posted a 10-point lead over their arch-foes and although Rangers have a game in hand, it looks irrelevant as a consolation. Celtic emphasised their superiority with a five-goal victory which featured as many scorers – Olivier Ntcham, Christopher Jullien, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and Jozo Simunovic. Neil Lennon felt sufficiently comfortable to rest half-a-dozen regulars for the William Hill Scottish Cup tie at Clyde but all six were restored to their beats for the visit of a Hearts team who themselves showed six changes, one of them being John Souttar, another who was allowed a weekend break. In a trackside interview shortly before kick-off, Daniel Stendel declared that his players would take the game to Celtic where possible and by half-time, although they trailed by a strike from Olivier Ntcham, Hearts had demonstrated that they could not be taken for granted.

neil lennon

The Hoops battered ten-man Hearts thanks to goals from Olivier Ntcham, Christopher Jullien, Callum McGregor, Jozo Simunovic and Ryan Christie. 2 Lennon insists the title race is not yet over as Celtic moved ten points ahead of Rangers Credit: Kenny Ramsay - The Sun Glasgow It made it 27 goals in eight games and saw them extend their lead after Rangers' defeat at Kilmarnock. 2 Celtic hit Hearts for five in big Parkhead win Credit: Kenny Ramsay - The Sun Glasgow "They were magnificent against Hearts - the desire and hunger to play, scoring goals, their running. Before the game Stendel had talked about believing a Parkhead triumph was possible – but he reckons his side looked startled. "I want to try and give the players the feeling we have a chance.

"We played a little bit better and we wanted to keep it in the second half but five minutes later the game went against us. "It is very difficult for us to keep our confidence and stay together but it's the one and only way for us in these difficult moments. "It was a very difficult night but we must stay together and look forward to Saturday. Daniel Stendel was frustrated during Hearts' 5-0 loss at Celtic Daniel Stendel admitted his Hearts players resembled rabbits in the headlights during the 5-0 defeat by Celtic. The manager bemoaned a loss of confidence as his team's 1-0 interval deficit increased by four more goals in the second half. Olivier Ntcham's opener on 30 minutes set the tone before Christopher Julien, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and Jozo Simunovic struck after the interval. Hearts also had recent signing Marcel Langer sent off in the dying minutes for a lunging tackle on the Celtic captain Scott Brown. We played like rabbits in the headlights," said Stendel afterwards. We wanted to keep it in the second half but after five minutes of the second half the game was decided against us. "It is very difficult for us at the moment to keep our confidence and stay together, but this is the only way for us. We showed a reaction on Saturday and won in the Scottish Cup. We have some injured players we are trying to bring back. We need our players at the moment. The Celtic manager Neil Lennon was delighted with a result which helped his team move ten points clear of rivals Rangers at the top of the league. Our desire and hunger to play and score goals was everything you want and we got it tonight," said the Northern Irishman. We are trying to do what we do best, conscientiously working behind the scenes to support every player. The players know there is a long way to go. "Hearts, to their credit, came here and tried to press the game.