The international break is over and for Ronny Deila’s Celtic the visit of Hearts to the East End of Glasgow on Saturday afternoon represents an opportunity to consolidate their lead over Aberdeen at the top of the Premiership.
Hearts have enjoyed a measure of success against Celtic this season - drawing both League games, a goalless draw at Parkhead back in September and a 2-2 draw in Edinburgh at Christmas when a last-minute Osman Sow equaliser denied the visitors all three points.
Celtic Assistant Manager John Collins - whilst anticipating a challenging encounter - was quick to defend his side’s previous form against Saturday’s visitors.
“I’m sure it will be a good game - it always is against Hearts. They have been tough opponents but we’ve played very well against them. I don’t believe our results have been justified considering out performances. They defended very deeply and we just couldn’t play through them.
“No doubt they’ll come again with a cautious approach to try to frustrate us. Their plan will be to sit deep and soak up the pressure. Our aimk will be to start the game well and get an early goal.”
Collins was in no doubt about the importance of the fixture.
“It’s imperative we play well and win at home. The momentum has swung back in our favour and we’re four points clear with a game in hand.”
The Tynecastle men had been on a good run of late with four successive wins without the loss of a solitary goal - only for the wheels to come off the rails immediately before the international break as Tommy Wright’s St. Johnstone left Gorgie with a shock - but thoroughly deserved - 3-0 win.
Robbie Neilson’s men nevertheless remain third in the division with 56 points from thirty games, nine points adrift of Aberdeen, albeit having played one game fewer.
Both Jozo Simunovic and Carlton Cole are injury absentees - the striker having picked up an ankle injury in training.
It had been more than six years since Hearts last won at Celtic Park - but with Aberdeen not in action against Hamilton Academical for another 24 hours Ronny Deila’s side will be determined to exert maximum pressure on their closest challengers by securing all three points.