Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Celtic Park was a momentous one for Steven Naismith and Heart of Midlothian. Coming off the back of demoralising defeats to Rangers and Aberdeen, most supporters made the journey along the M8 more out of hope than expectation.

Their faith in the men in maroon would be handsomely rewarded, though. A few will have dared to dream when Lawrence Shankland headed in the opening goal early on in Glasgow’s east end but by the time Stephen Kingsley curled in a free-kick on the half-hour mark, the prospect of success was anything but fanciful. When the full-time whistle eventually rang out, Hearts were worthy – and convincing – winners.

So, where did it all go right for Naismith’s side? How were they able to take the lead at one of the most unaccommodating venues in Scotland, and, perhaps more pertinently, how did they manage to see it through? Let’s take a look.

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Forward-thinking attitude

It’s no secret that Hearts have been a tad conservative in possession at times this season; that a little more attacking verve wouldn’t go amiss. And that’s exactly what Naismith got against Celtic.

Beni Baningime set the tone early on. The former Everton midfielder has found himself on the receiving end of criticism at times this season for being overly cautious on the ball – but that accusation could not be levelled at him at Parkhead. Just two minutes into the contest, the 25-year-old received the ball near the halfway line and quickly assessed his options. All too often this season, the Congolese has opted to play a safe pass back to one of the centre-halves.

This time, though, he shaped as though he was going for a backpass before dropping his shoulder and advancing forward. This took his opponent out the game, progressed the ball up the park quicker and all of a sudden, the Celtic backline had to adjust to deal with the marauding midfielder, leaving Alan Forrest or Jorge Grant free to receive the ball further forward.

It might not sound like much, but it was a clear indication that Hearts were willing to take risks. And those gambles would pay off handsomely when Shankland opened the scoring from a 15th-minute Grant corner.

The goal might have come from a set-piece, but the attacking move that preceded it was the best either side could conjure up over the course of 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon – and it all started with Baningime’s bravery. The midfielder was so far up the park that he was in danger of getting a nosebleed – he is more accustomed sitting at the base of midfield than galloping forward – yet here he was, pressing 30 yards from Celtic’s goal and making it difficult for the champions to play out from the back. He cut out a slack pass to seize possession before carefully recycling possession.

This allowed Hearts to pile bodies forward as the ball was initially moved backwards, pinning Celtic back inside their own half. The ball was eventually worked back to Baningime, where he had two options: play a short, simple pass back the way, or pick out Nathaniel Atkinson in acres of space on the right wing.

Baningime chose the latter option – something he hasn’t always done – and the result was an excellent chance. The ball was eventually worked to Kingsley, whose floated delivery into the area had to be expertly cleared by Cameron Carter-Vickers. The hosts’ defence wouldn’t fare quite so well at the resulting set-piece, though.

Atkinson, too, deserves his share of the spotlight here. Right wing-back has been something of a problem position for Hearts in the Australia internationalist’s absence, and the 24-year-old showed exactly what the team have been missing at Celtic Park. His willingness to get forward to support attacks was an invaluable asset to the men in maroon, and neither of Hearts’ goals would have occurred without the defender rampaging forward to join the attack.

Baningime and Atkinson encapsulated Hearts’ bravery on the ball and forward-thinking attitude – and Naismith’s side reaped the rewards on Saturday.

READ MORE: What first Hearts win at Celtic Park in over 5,000 days was like from the away end

Overloading the wide areas

A lot of football fans around the country will have sat up and taken notice when hearing that Hearts had won 2-0 on Saturday. The ‘two’ part of that scoreline will have grabbed people’s attention, but it’s perhaps the ‘nil’ that is most impressive. Let’s dig into how Hearts kept Celtic at bay.

First and foremost, the team’s defensive structure played a huge role. A combination of the three centre-backs and Baningime at No.6 made attacking through the middle a no-go for Brendan Rodgers’ side, but this won’t have overly concerned them. Much of Celtic’s attacking play is focused down the flanks, with the full-backs pushing forward beyond the winger on the overlap. The nearest central midfielder shuffles over too, with the trio then combining to create overloads on the flanks to get in behind the opposition.

It was a ploy Hearts were well wary of, though. The two central midfielders, Jorge Grant and Aidan Denholm, were tasked with dropping wide and deep to lend a hand to the wing-backs, covering space in behind them on the flanks and allowing the two wide defenders to press the man in possession. The wing-backs would show the Celtic attacker inside into the heavily congested central area where Hearts could then retrieve the ball back without too much fuss, and the back three could maintain a solid defensive line to give Celtic nowhere to go.

Above is a typical example from the first half. Luis Palma receives the ball in a dangerous area, and Atkinson moves out to close him down. He does his utmost to show the winger inside but on the off-chance that Palma opts to turn back on himself and advance up the wing, Denholm is there to provide cover.

Palma runs out of options and can only play the ball back to the centre-half, much to the attacker's frustration.

The result of this tactical set-up? Barring a few rare occasions, Celtic were unable to attack at pace and turn the Hearts defence. The few occasions they did so led to their best chances of the afternoon, but Naismith’s tactical set-up was conceived to stop these dangerous moments from occurring in the first instance. And it worked a treat. For the most part, Celtic were limited to speculative pot-shots from distance. They might have dominated possession, but they had nowhere to go.

READ MORE: Celtic 0 Hearts 2 | Instant analysis: Set-piece threat, showing steel and punching up

Winning the individual battles

When Kingsley doubled Hearts’ advantage with his first free-kick goal in well over a year, Hearts knew they had the necessary cushion to sit off their opponents a little more. A one-goal lead at Parkhead is a very precious thing, but a two-goal lead? At that point, the onus is on Celtic to seize the initiative. Try as they might, Rodgers’ men couldn’t firmly grasp it – and every member of the Hearts backline deserves their fair share of the credit.

Take a look at the pressing maps below. The one on the left shows the areas of the park where Hearts applied pressure on the ball in the first half, and the one on the right shows how the team defended after the half-time break. Notice that most of it takes place in the full-back areas to begin with before Hearts start defending along the edge of their own box.

Retreating a little is perfectly natural, given the circumstances, but it was also a shrewd tactical move. The two Hearts wing-backs, Alex Cochrane and Atkinson, were winning their individual battles, and so Naismith trusted that they would continue to do so. And he was absolutely spot on. Between them, the two wing-backs completed more tackles (21) than the entire Celtic team combined (18). Heck, Cochrane completed more interceptions (eight) than the home side did (five).

These figures tell us one thing: that Atkinson and Cochrane unquestionably had the upper hand in their 1v1s. Cochrane benefitted from facing Mikey Johnston on an off-day – the Celtic winger lost the ball almost every time he received it – and on the one occasion where he managed to get in behind the Hearts defence at pace, Kye Rowles was there to calmly sweep up. The yellow area shows the part of the pitch that the Australian has to defend and by the time he wins the ball back, he is in plenty of space.

Keeping Celtic quiet in the wide areas was the foundation on which this win was built. It soon became apparent that the champions didn’t have too many other ideas about ways they could hurt Hearts, to the point where speculative balls were hoofed into the Hearts box more out of hope than expectation where they were greedily hoovered up by one of the centre-halves. The result? As Rodgers himself admitted after the game, Celtic could have played all day without finding a way to breach Hearts’ defence.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith outlines areas of Hearts display that impressed him in Celtic win

An overdue statement win

This was a match that will live long in the memory for Hearts supporters. Over 5,000 days had passed since they had last watched their side win at Parkhead, and over 6,000 had passed since the men in maroon picked up three points while on league duty in Glasgow’s east end.

More than that, though, is that the result and the performance demonstrated that Naismith’s Hearts are capable of punching up. They went toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in the country and the game plan was right down to a tee, and by the time all was said and done they could return home to Gorgie with their heads held high as worthy winners.

Fans have had to be patient to witness a statement performance under Naismith. And when it finally arrived at long last, it was well worth the wait.