Rampant Celtic roar to Scottish title

Alistair WATSON
Celtic set a new Scottish top-flight record as the earliest ever champions after wrapping up first place with eight games still to play

Celtic were crowned Scottish Premiership champions for a sixth consecutive season as Scott Sinclair's hat-trick inspired a 5-0 demolition of Hearts on Sunday.

Brendan Rodgers' side, now 25 points clear of second-placed Aberdeen, set a new Scottish top-flight record as the earliest ever champions after wrapping up first place with eight games still to play.

Sinclair struck twice in the first half before Stuart Armstrong and Patrick Roberts netted after the interval at Tynecastle.

Sinclair's third, via the penalty spot, put the seal on the 48th Scottish title triumph in Celtic's illustrious history.

Celtic are unbeaten in all 30 league games this season, winning 28 times.

Having already won the Scottish League Cup and with a Scottish Cup semi-final against Glasgow rivals Rangers looming, Celtic could land the domestic treble in former Liverpool boss Rodgers' first season in charge.

"The win probably typified how they've been for the majority of the season. The professionalism they've showed, the attitude and determination and style in which they've played," Rodgers said.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game but the style and the intensity of our play was admirable.

"To win a pressure game like that as convincingly as we did is an absolutely remarkable achievement by the players."

English winger Sinclair added: "It was great. I think with the big games I enjoy the pressure.

"It's great to come away and win the championship."

Aberdeen's 7-0 win over Dundee on Friday had delayed the title party and meant Celtic needed a win against Hearts to clinch the championship this weekend.

They burst out the traps and Callum McGregor had the ball in the net after just two minutes but the midfielder was offside when he was picked out by Sinclair.

Hearts recovered and Jamie Walker fired wide from 20 yards before Isma Goncalves cut in from the left and tested Craig Gordon with a thumping strike that the keeper gathered at the second attempt.

Two quick-fire goals from Celtic turned the game on its head.

Sinclair took out three defenders as he played a give-and-go with Roberts and then lashed in a fierce strike high into the roof of the net leaving Jack Hamilton with no chance in the 24th minute.

Sinclair grabbed a second just three minutes later.

Only in the starting line-up due to an injury to French striker Moussa Dembele, Roberts was again the provider.

He jinked past a challenge before playing a superbly weighted pass through to Sinclair, who took two touches before drilling a low effort past Hamilton.

- Unstoppable -

Celtic had the ball in the net again in the 51st minute when a sliding Tasos Avlonitis diverted a low James Forrest effort into his own net, but an offside flag went up against Sinclair, who was waiting to tap home for his hat-trick.

The travelling Celtic support didn't have to wait long as Armstrong made it 3-0 in the 55th minute.

Kieran Tierney's ball from the left was dummied by McGregor allowing the Scottish midfielder Armstrong time and space to send an unstoppable strike into the bottom corner.

Roberts got the goal his play deserved in the 61st minute.

The on-loan Manchester City star collected a pass at the edge of the box before sending a curling effort into the top corner.

Sinclair sealed the win from the penalty spot in the 84th minute.

He won the spot-kick after he was brought down by Avlonitis and the 28-year-old expertly despatched his effort past Hamilton for his 21st of an impressive debut season in Scotland.