THE three points, as the saying goes, is the most important thing. And crucially, Celtic got them against Hearts thanks to Kyogo’s first-half strike. But the final scoreline told little of the slog it had been, and nothing of the underlying cost.

From around the hour mark here, the Celtic players looked dead on their feet, and had Hearts grabbed an equaliser and taken a point back to Edinburgh, the hosts could have had little complaint.

That they didn’t owed much to their own profligacy, but also a towering performance from the returning Carl Starfelt at the heart of the Celtic defence. The Swede has had his critics since arriving at the club in the summer, but he stood tall here as he watched teammates fall all around him.

Tony Ralston, Stephen Welsh and Jota were all lost to injury during the match, but the patchwork Celts ultimately saw the game out to stay on the coattails of Rangers at the top of the table.

Starfelt’s return was perhaps hastened by the absence of Cameron Carter-Vickers, who was missing due to personal reasons. Tom Rogic also came into the midfield upon his own recovery from injury, replacing James McCarthy, while James Forrest was preferred to Liel Abada on the right of the attack.

Hearts made four changes to their side from the win over St Mirren at the weekend, with Beni Baningime’s injury giving Peter Haring an opportunity in midfield. Manager Robbie Neilson wanted pace in his side in order to allow them to get up the pitch, with the inclusion of Aaron McEneff, Ben Woodburn and Josh Ginnelly designed to give them avenues of escape.

They were adopting a very bold high line too, and were almost caught out with the ball over the top on several occasions early on.

When the best early chance fell to Celtic though, it came from the visitors getting themselves in an almighty fankle, and how they weren’t punished only Forrest will know.

Former Celtic keeper Craig Gordon played a pass out to Cammy Devlin in a central area, where he was robbed by David Turnbull, who then played in Jota. The forward’s shot was saved by Gordon, but spilled across his goalline where Forrest looked set to tap in, but with Gordon scrambling around at his feet the winger could only slam off the face of the post from a couple of yards out.

The general flow was towards the Hearts goal though, and only a stretching fingertip save from Gordon kept out Callum McGregor’s long-range deflected effort.

There was space for Hearts to exploit down the wings with Celtic committing their full-backs forward, but Barrie McKay and Ben Woodburn weren’t really making the most of it bar forcing a couple of corners that came to nothing.

Indeed, it was Celtic who made the most of their domination of the wings to hit the front.

A wonderful passing move saw the ball worked to Ralston in an advanced position on the right, and his low cross was swept home at the near post by Kyogo, whose lightning-fast movement seemed to make him invisible to the nearby Craig Halkett. And perhaps the assistant referee too, with the Hearts players protesting in vain that the Celtic forward was offside.

The goal came at a price, with Ralston injuring himself in the process of delivering the ball and being forced off to be replaced by Adam Montgomery, with Josip Juranovic coming over to his preferred right-back berth.

The second half started as the first had ended, with Celtic looking dangerous. They almost got their second after Michael Smith had slipped when played in down the Hearts right by a wonderful John Souttar pass, allowing Celtic to break quickly.

Some lovely interplay between Jota and Turnbull saw the latter release Rogic – who was at the heart of most of the home side’s attacking play – who in turn put Juranovic away down the Hearts right in the blink of an eye.

His cutback found Turnbull steaming in at the edge of the box, but his effort was blocked behind for a corner as the Hearts defence put their bodies on the line.

While it remained one, the visitors always had a chance, and they should have been level as a McKay corner was headed wide by Stephen Kingsley, who had the freedom of the Celtic box and should have done better.

Neilson brought on Liam Boyce for the ineffectual Woodburn to give Ginnelly a hand up top for the visitors, and there was a definite feeling of Celtic losing control of the game. Only a last-gasp block from Welsh prevented Boyce from slamming home the leveller after a stramash in the home area.

From the corner, there was another great opportunity, Halkett this time heading off target from another great McKay delivery. Which was even more impressive from the wide man considering the drinks raining down on him from the Celtic support in the corner.

The home fans had been less than impressed by the performance of referee Bobby Madden throughout the evening, but they were glad of his somewhat puzzling intervention when Jota pulled up clutching his hamstring as he ran with the ball in the Celtic half.

Hearts were looking to take advantage as the winger ceded possession, but Madden stopped the game for a drop ball once he was removed from the action, much to the chagrin of Neilson and his bench. There was more injury woe for the hosts as Welsh then limped off moments later.

It was suddenly all Hearts, with Celtic struggling to get out, but when they eventually did late on they should have wrapped up the spoils. McGregor played in Kyogo, who found Forrest haring through on goal, but Gordon stood tall to deny him.

Play raged up the other end as Hearts broke, McKay playing in substitute Gary Mackay-Steven, who stumbled to allow Starfelt to slide in and poke clear. The ball fell back to McKay who steadied himself with just Hart to beat, but the ball slid agonisingly wide as Celtic Park held its breath.

After a frantic finale, the home supporters could finally exhale, the roar of relief telling its own story.