- Celtic denied eight consecutive Tynecastle wins for first time in history
- Hearts without a league victory since November 7
- Stunning Sow strike salvages point in 90th minute
- 10 points separate sides in first and third
HEARTS twice came from behind to claim a Scottish Premiership point against champions Celtic in a late Christmas cracker in the capital.
Nir Bitton slotted the Hoops ahead for the second week running before Sam Nicholson fired an equaliser in first-half stoppage time.
Tom Rogic restored Celtic’s lead after the break with a curling shot but Osman Sow ensured the points were shared with a spectacular strike amid more injury time drama.
It denied the Hoops – who move a point above second-placed Aberdeen with a game in hand – an eighth successive win at Tynecastle on boss Ronny Deila’s first league visit to Gorgie.
Celtic’s failure to win for the sixth time in nine games will raise more questions of Deila, who was pleased with a performance which he described as being “more like his team”.
His opposite number Robbie Neilson, however, was left frustrated by a fourth draw in a five-game winless run for his side as they sit nine points behind the Dons, who drew 2-2 with Inverness on Boxing Day.
Both teams were without their leading scorers this season as Gavin Reilly made his first Hearts start since September in place of the suspended Juanma – who was sent off in the goalless draw at St Johnstone last weekend.
As 18-goal Leigh Griffiths missed a fourth successive Celtic game with a calf problem, Nadir Ciftci led the line again and was denied by Hearts keeper Neil Alexander when played in by Rogic as Celtic silenced the sell-out crowd with a dominant start.
It was all going according to plan for the Hoops – seeking to bounce back from a surprise first domestic home defeat of the season by Motherwell – until the injured Stuart Armstrong was replaced by James Forrest on 20 minutes.
Hearts had previously offered little to encourage fans but came alive as Reilly began to cause Dedryck Boyata problems – before the Celtic defender pulled his hamstring and gave way for a first outing in seven games for Efe Ambrose.
The Jambos’ marked improvement almost told on the scoreline when Prince Buaben’s prodded effort from Arnaud Djoum’s low centre was clawed out on the goalline by Craig Gordon.
The former Hearts keeper was also extended by Reilly’s daisycutter after the ex-Queen of the South forward got free of Ambrose.
The hosts were dealt a sucker punch, though, when Bitton slotted his seventh goal of the season past Alexander three minutes before the break from Callum McGregor’s inch-perfect pass after a lack of defensive discipline from Igor Rossi.
But their response was instant as, in the second minute of stoppage time, Bhoys skipper Mikael Lustig inadvertently diverted Buaben’s cross onto the foot of Nicholson and the ball flew into the corner of the net.
Celtic almost regained their lead within 20 seconds of the restart when Ciftci robbed Blazej Augustyn near the byline and saw his low right-footer parried by an unsighted Alexander.
As proceedings turned scrappy, Hearts relentlessly pressed the vulnerable Hoops backline and had a penalty claim rejected by referee Steven McLean when a furious Augustyn felt he was pushed in the back by Ciftci.
Deila’s men turned up the heat as Stefan Johansen failed to connect cleanly with Lustig’s centre before Forrest dragged wide when cutting inside of Hearts’ stand-in captain Morgaro Gomis.
And the excellent Rogic – who scored Celtic’s League Cup winner at Tynecastle in October – looked to have repeated that feat when curling home Bitton’s pass from the edge of the box with 20 minutes remaining.
The temperature increased a notch and sparks began to fly as Ciftci was perhaps fortunate to only be booked for leaving a flailing arm on Augustyn.
Neilson threw on Dario Zanatta and Billy King from the bench for the closing stages to support Sow in attack, with Hearts pushing for an equaliser.
And – as the game drifted into four minutes of additional time – they found the decisive moment from their first second-half shot on target in stunning style.
After Forrest needlessly conceded a free-kick, Buaben laid it back to Sow and the striker sent a swerving 30-yard effort into the top corner via a slight deflection off Gary Mackay-Steven.
Despite their boss asking for calm heads on the touchline, there was still time for Hearts to pursue more glory but they will be content with taking a second league point from Celtic this term after the goalless draw at Celtic Park in September.
Although the late goal was unavoidable, the champions will rue the inability to see out what would have been a sixth successive away victory as the pressure will undoubtedly intensify on Deila ahead of Dundee on Wednesday night.
Substitutes: Pallardo (on for Djoum 62′), King (on for Reilly 80′) and Zanatta (on for Gomis 87′)
Not used: Hamilton (GK), Ozturk, McGhee, Swanson.
Booked: Augustyn (64′)
Goals: Nicholson (45+2′), Sow (90+1′)
Substitutes: Forrest (on for Armstrong 20′), Ambrose (on for Boyata 33′) and Mackay-Steven (on for Rogic 78′)
Not used: Bailly (GK), Izaguirre, Allan, Cole.
Booked: Johansen (28′), Ambrose (51′), Ciftci (79′)
Goals: Bitton (42′), Rogic (70′)
Referee: Steven McLean (Scotland) – 7/10