When Heart of Midlothian came calling to Parkhead, they had two things on their minds-arrest Celtic’s surge to the top of the league and put pressure on city rivals Hibernian who sat proudly at the SPL summit prior to this keenly anticipated clash.
Neil Lennon stated before the game that John McGlynn had become a “great manager” at Hearts and on this showing, he was spot-on.
The Gorgie men contributed to a rare old battle and with a wee bit of luck could have returned back down the M8 with a share of the spoils. That they didn’t was down to a blunder by serial embarrassment, ‘keeper Peter Enckelman according to some ‘pundits.’ Yes, you know the ones.
Well, according to me, it was down to several Celtic players showing up well after a brilliant European Champions League victory in Moscow just a few days prior. Here’s my take on it.
Both teams went hell-for-leather in a bit for supremacy. Celtic played some scintillating football at times and only leg-weariness possibly allied with tired minds prevented them from notching up a runaway scoreline.
Hearts showed no fear though and displayed the kind of drive and determination rarely seen from opponents on the hallowed turf. Shots rained in thick and fast throughout the game and it was a miracle it ended only 1-0. What a pity 13,000 fans decided to shop at the Forge rather than support their team!
The major factors for the bhoys in green were Commons, Samaras, Wanyama and Ambrose (with a special mention of Lustig who blew me away.) All were superb and all were contenders for Man Of The Match. That accolade ultimately fell to Kris Commons though and the fact that Scotland manager Craig Levein ranks him 5th or 6th in the Hampden pecking order fills me with both astonishment and delight. Delight because I have no love for the SFA’s puppet team and wish all Celts were excluded for being not good enough.
Against Hearts, Commons ran the show from start to finish and his passing and movement would not have been out of place in a Barcelona shirt. He has it all-class, skill, strength and the ability to open up a team with a sublime flick, cross or drive. He is a superb player and his omission from International football is surely Celtic’s gain.
Wanyama was Wanyama. Tall, commanding and dominant. He consistently put his head in where it hurt and drove the team forward from the back. It was possibly not his finest game but he was still imperious. Great player.
Ambrose. Now, where did he come from again? What a game he had. Strong, resolute and with remarkable timing he countered the plucky Driver inspired Jambos attack. He seemed to have a magnet attached to his boots and his link-up with the midfield showed great promise. He appears to be an inspired signing and this was magnified when, towards the end of the game, he made a rare mistake which allowed Hearts a shot at goal. To a man, the Celtic defence surrounded him and encouraged him to forget it. They knew the value of his performance and refused to let this slip overshadow a brilliant showing in the hoops.
Now…Samaras! The big Greek has become the player nobody thought was possible after years of being the fans whipping boy. Lennon saw his potential and kept him. Sammy is repaying Lenny’s faith with a mature, thoughtful and match-winning season and nobody is happier than me. Well, perhaps Sammy is. I’m sure Lenny has a wry chuckle to himself too as the Sunsilk Mhan rampages through defence after defence and is a terrifying sight in full flight.
Commons was instrumental in both Sammy’s big moments in this game. Firstly he turned the most sublime cross across goal and Samaras met the dipping ball first time with the outside of his boot. Unfortunately, the ball cannoned off the post and out. Nae luck this time! Nae luck either for Charlie Mulgrew who was injured during this melee and went off shortly afterwards to be replaced by Joe Ledley. Not a bad sub!
Shortly after, Kris dissected the maroon rearguard with an inch-perfect pass as Samaras took it in his stride. The big fella drove low and hard and straight through the pins of Enckelman who should have kept ‘em shut. This was the match-winner although this could have come from any one of several as both Forster and the Enckelman were kept busy. Barr, Paterson, Stevenson and Taouil all came close for the visitors but Celtic had the majority of shots at goal, thus deserved of the three points.
The points took the Bhoys two points ahead of Hibs at the top of the league and, ominously, with a game to spare. Should Celtic go five clear and with no Glasgow opponents to contend with, my prediction of an early title finish should apply. That’s not me being clever, just realistic.
Celtic will surely wrap up the title in jig time now and reserve their major efforts for Europe. From what I’ve seen so far, this is gonna be a monumental (treble?) season. Lennon is using his charges wisely and I believe he is secretly giving the ‘Vicky’ under his jersey to those who disparaged his good name without giving him a chance. Hail Hail Lenny!