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Preview: Celtic vs. Hearts - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Celtic vs. Hearts - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Scottish Premiership clash between Celtic and Hearts, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

Two of the teams involved in the Scottish Premiership title race will collide on Thursday when Celtic host Hearts in their latest league fixture.

Both head into the game on the back of victories at the weekend, with this fixture providing the Jam Tarts with the chance to leapfrog the Hoops into second place.

Match preview

Celtic stretched their unbeaten run in the SPL to eight games at the weekend when they were able to defeat Aberdeen in a hard-fought 2-1 victory.

Jota had given the Hoops the lead before Lewis Ferguson was able to respond from the penalty spot; however, a second-half goal from Callum McGregor was enough to secure the three points.

This was the perfect way for the club to respond after being defeated in the Europa League last week by Bayern Leverkusen in a five-goal thriller.

However, that loss was only their first in 11 games, showcasing the high level of consistency that the Hoops have been providing lately, which is why they are just four points behind Rangers right now in the league table.

Now they have the chance to put some distance between themselves and Hearts as a win would really separate the pack and ensure they are the main challengers to the Gers.

The Jam Tarts will not go away quietly though, which they proved on the opening day of the season when they last competed against Celtic in the league.

It was Robbie Neilson's men that took all three points in that fixture after a 2-1 win, although they left it late in order to secure the result with an 89th-minute goal from John Souttar seeing them win the game.

Hearts got themselves back to winning ways at the weekend following a loss to Motherwell when they defeated St Mirren thanks to finishes from Gary Mackay-Steven and Stephen Kingsley.

It marked only the second time that the Jam Tarts were able to secure three points in their previous six fixtures, with consistency proving to be a problem as of late.

At the moment, they are just two points behind Celtic and they will be keen not to allow the Hoops to extend that gap as Neilson tries to keep his team involved in the title chase.

Celtic Scottish Premiership form:
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • W

Celtic form (all competitions):
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L
  • W

Hearts Scottish Premiership form:
  • D
  • D
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W

Hearts form (all competitions):
  • D
  • D
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W

Team News

Celtic are set for a major boost when it comes to squad fitness with both Nir Bitton and Tom Rogic being back and available for the club.

Carl Starfelt and Greg Taylor are also making their way back from their respective injuries as well, but Thursday's fixture could end up being too soon for them.

Despite being stretchered off at the weekend, Neilson was confident that Beni Baningime will be available for Hearts in midweek, with the problem not being as serious as first feared.

Liam Boyce has also been able to return recently, which provides a big attacking threat heading into this match, which is needed against the team with the best defensive record in the league.

Celtic possible starting lineup:
Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Welsh, Juranovic; Turnbull, McCarthy, McGregor; Abada, Jota, Furuhashi

Hearts possible starting lineup:
Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; Smith, Devlin, Baningime, Halliday; McKay, Mackay-Steven, Boyce

We say: Celtic 2-1 Hearts

Thursday's match promises to be a closely-contested one between two of the top teams in the SPL who both want to keep the pressure up on Rangers.

However, the Hoops head into this one with slightly more momentum and confidence, especially in front of goal and that could provide the edge needed to earn the three points.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a home win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home Win:data

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