Sunday football at Celtic Park. The major annoyance of dropping out of the Champions League qualifying and into the Europa League qualifying is this requirement to play our European ties on a Thursday and therefore shift our domestic games to the Sunday.
At least Thursday night went pretty well.
Sure, 2-0 isn’t a done deal as far as the tie is concerned, but it’s a decent result to take to Sweden next week. No away goals and a cushioned lead is decent enough. It could have been better but we’re in the driving seat at least.
So we turn our attention back to the league. Around Scotland’s four divisions there are only three 100% records already with two of those three on the line in today’s matches. Despite playing a game less, the two top flight Glasgow teams are still sitting in the top two positions as all the other Premiership teams are taking points off each other already.
It’s early days, but this league season is looking a lot like the early 2000s when every dropped point was a disaster because we knew the team across the city wouldn’t drop many. 2002/03 in particular saw both Celtic and Rangers drop almost the exact same points at the exact same venues! Specifically draws at Rugby Park, Pittodrie and Dens Park and a defeat at Fir Park.
But there was difference. One defeat we had that they didn’t that cancelled out the two wins to one advantage we had in the derby matches that season. While they went to Tynecastle and won one game thanks to an own goal, we went to Tynecastle and lost to a late Austin McCann winner as we chased a winner ourselves.
We couldn’t know that a draw that day would actually have been enough. Instead we lost the league on goal difference having dropped just seventeen points all season.
If we want to win nine in a row this season we have to be ruthless and clinical every single game. Drop as few points as possible and ideally keep adding to our superior goal difference as much as possible.
Today’s visitors to Celtic Park are that very same team that cost us dearly in that season. Indeed, back on that fateful day in 2003 the Hearts Manager was Craig Levein, the same man who will be in the away dugout today.
Hearts haven’t started their league campaign well though. They started with a tough trip to Pittodrie where they went a goal behind, turned it round to lead 2-1, but then had a man sent off and lost 3-2. The following week they had a goalless draw at home against newly promoted Ross County.
Their League Cup form has been a little better, with a 2-1 run away to Motherwell last week ensuring they reached the quarter final stage where they will once more face Aberdeen. But their section form wasn’t great, with low scoring wins over Cowdenbeath and Stenhousemuir coming between draws at home to Dundee United and away to East Fife. Indeed, defeat to East Fife on penalties meant the Methil team even progressed to the second round.
But Hearts have a habit of finding something extra when they play us, more so than a lot of teams. And besides, struggling in the League Cup against lower league opposition is something that we know about all too well from last week, so maybe we shouldn’t think too much about that.
We have a big week ahead of us. Of the four games before the international break, we’ve had the right result in the first one. Next we want a home win to maintain our 100% league record ahead of the top of the table derby next weekend, hopefully one that will come off the back of a decent draw in the Europa League group stages for us.
None of these remaining games will be easy. The last time we played Hearts was the Scottish Cup final and we had to come from behind in that to clinch the treble treble. I’m not expecting anything but a tough slog today, particularly given we had a busy Thursday evening while they had a reasonably quiet week to work on how to frustrate us this time.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)