CELTIC highlighted they can sustain their Scottish title challenge while a raft of key players are missing tonight with a hard-fought win over Hearts at Tynecastle that maintained the pressure on Rangers at the top of the cinch Premiership a week ahead of the second Old Firm game of the season.

Ange Postecoglou’s side, without Kyogo Furuhashi, Yosuke Ideguchi, Callum McGregor and David Turnbull due to injury and Daizen Maeda and Tom Rogic because the duo are away representing their countries, endured a nervous end to the evening and were fortunate not to be held to a draw.

Still, a sensational Reo Hatate goal and a controversial Giorgios Giakoumakis effort in the first-half ultimately secured all three points and kept them within four of their city rivals at the top of the league table. It could prove to be an important triumph for them come May.

Liam Boyce pulled one back for Robbie Neilson’s team in contentious circumstances in the second – but he was unable to convert a penalty after that and the visitors held on for a priceless victory.

Neilson made two changes to the team that had swatted aside Auchinleck Talbot in the Scottish Cup in Ayrshire on Saturday; Nathan Atkinson and Andy Halliday dropped out and John Souttar and Josh Ginnelly came in.

He had insisted he had left Souttar out of his starting line-up at the weekend due to an ankle problem the centre half was nursing and not because Hearts and Rangers had been haggling over a transfer fee. Whatever the reason, the defender returned.

He had been booed by his own supporters in the league match against St Johnstone – the first since it emerged he had signed a pre-contract agreement with their Glasgow rivals - eight days earlier.

There were a few jeers from the stands when Souttar got on the ball. But he was unperturbed if he heard them. He slid in to block a Matt O’Riley shot early on and was commanding thereafter. 

Postecoglou had rested several first team regulars for the trip to Alloa at the weekend and Josip Juranovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Greg Taylor were given the nod at the back as Liam Scales, Stephen Welsh and Anthony Ralston dropped out.

James Forrest and Jota were deployed on either side of lone striker Giakoumakis. But it was the midfield that really caught the eye. Nir Bitton joined new signings Hatate and O’Riley in the engine room in the absence of McGregor and Rogic. How would the trio fare together?

Hatate misplaced a pass after just 19 seconds and gifted the home team a scoring opportunity. Boyce advanced before feeding his fellow front man Barrie McKay. The winger’s attempt, though, sailed high over the crossbar. 

Jota started his first game since returning from six weeks out and showed an admirable willingness to track back and muck in with defensive duties as well as all his usual pace trickery going forward. Michael Smith, his opposite number, limped off injured soon after he had cut in from the left and forced two good saves from Craig Gordon.

Gordon could do little to prevent the opener in the 27th minute after Atkinson, who had come on for Smith, gave the ball away in the middle of the park. Bitton supplied Hatate and his team mate burst forward and unleashed an unstoppable shot from fully 25 yards out.

Hatate was involved in the second eight minutes later. He spotted O’Riley in space wide on the right. The Englishman, a £1.5m capture from MK Dons last week, found Giakoumakis and the forward held off Souttar and cheekily backheeled the delivery into the net.

Was the Greek striker offside? Linesman Dougie Potter kept his flag down. But Neilson and the Hearts supporters were convinced the goal should not have been allowed to stand.

Jota took great exception to a physical challenge by Cammy Devlin six minutes before half-time. Taylor raced over to get involved and both teams squared up to each other on the touchline. When order was restored match official John Beaton booked Devlin, Taylor and Jota for their involvement in the fracas.

Neilson waited in the tunnel for Beaton and to leave the pitch at the end of the first 45 minutes and could be seen jabbing his finger and voicing his displeasure. The sooner VAR is brought into the game in this country the better for our officials.

Ellis Simms, the loanee who arrived in Gorgie from Everton yesterday, replaced Josh Ginnelly at the start of the second-half and took over from McKay up front as the winger moved wide. When Devlin volleyed just past the post it looked as if the change was working.

Celtic responded to that scare immediately when Juranovic burst forward and tested Gordon. But their opponents were lifted when Beni Baningme and Gary Mackay-Steven came on for Devlin and Alex Cochrane respectively. They pulled one back though Boyce in the 62nd minute.

Their goal, though, also looked distinctly offside. Boyce appeared half a yard beyond the last Celtic defender when McKay played him in. But the forward fired between the legs of Joe Hart to give Hearts a chance of salvaging a result.

The Northern Ireland internationalist hit the post with a spot kick after Beaton ruled that O’Riley had handled the ball inside his own area in the 72nd minute and Hearts had nothing to show for their efforts when the final whistle blew.