You have to go back to 1895 to find the last time Celtic were on such a big hiding at Tynecastle. The 4-0 defeat there last month wasn’t even unmerited or flattering to Hearts. They fully deserved the scalp and the big scoreline that they took away with it.
It was one of those games where everything seemed to work for them and nothing seemed to work for us. Our defending wasn’t great, whether it was Jozo Simunovic effective gifting the third goal or the poor attempts at trying to clear the ball and gifting possession straight back that ultimately lead to the first two goals. Kyle Lafferty’s second was just inch perfect and on another day he’d probably have put it wide of Craig Gordon would have got a hand to it.
And the penalty for the fourth goal just summed it all up. It was needless and clumsy.
We only really troubled Hearts when three goals down, and even then couldn’t find a way through. As ways to end a remarkable run as this Celtic team had been on domestically, this was almost spectacular.
Other than a draw against one of our city rivals at the end of the calendar year, Celtic have more or less bounced back. The wins have been effective if unspectacular. We’re eleven points clear at the top of the table and will face another of our city rivals next month in the next round of the Scottish Cup.
But there’s a feeling that we can do better than this.
It’s just not as exciting as it should be. Or effective for that matter. We’re lacking something, and being hit by more and more injures isn’t helping matters.
The latest injuries from Saturday’s win over Hibernian are definitely a concern. Leigh Griffiths scored the only goal of the game before picking up an injury that will now keep him out for the next four weeks. That leaves us with an off form Moussa Dembele and a yet to really impress Odsonne Edouard. Now would be the time to step up for one or both of them, we certainly know Dembele is capable of it.
The real worry though has to be Craig Gordon. Our goalkeeper lost a good few years of his career to knee injuries, and his time at Celtic was something even he doubted might come around. So to hear he’s out for twelve weeks with a knee injury has some people wondering if we’ve seen the last of him. Hopefully not, but in the meantime we have Dorus de Vries and that’s it. Conor Hazard, the youngster that many have high hopes about, is away on loan. So we’re probably in the market for a goalkeeper now.
Adding those two to the likes of Patrick Roberts and Tom Rogic sees us missing quite a few key players now. We’ll need to face quite a few games without them too, including the upcoming Europa League tie against Zenit St Petersburg.
But let’s not forget tonight’s tough test. Hearts conceded a late equaliser against Motherwell at the weekend, but that was the first goal they had conceded in nearly fourteen hours of football. Indeed, Hearts haven’t lost any of their last twelve matches, a run that includes their win over us.
After that there were three consecutive goalless draws against St Johnstone, Hibernian and Aberdeen to round out 2017. They then came back and knocked Hibernian out of the Scottish Cup before beating Hamilton 3-0 last midweek. Even before they played us last time they had beaten Dundee and Motherwell as well as drawing with Hamilton, Ross County and Partick Thistle.
The defeat to Kilmarnock came so long ago now that it was played at Murrayfield rather than Tynecastle. Of the twelve games since then, nine have come at home, and perhaps that is key. They haven’t played on the road much lately, although the win over Hamilton was certainly at New Douglas Park.
When they last visited Celtic Park on the opening day of the league season, Celtic ran out 4-1 winners as Jon Daly took interim charge after the dismissal of Ian Cathro. Griffiths scored twice that day, with Scott Sinclair and Callum McGregor getting the other two goals. Esmael Goncalves scored a late consolation, but he has departed Hearts this week so won’t be around to add to that this time.
But I doubt Hearts will mind. They know they can beat us and they know they deserved it last time. They’ll set out to do it again tonight, and its up to us to make sure we don’t let them take control again.
We owe them one, and if ever there was a game where Celtic should step up and show what we’re capable of, it’s this one. A better all round performance should help lift the team and the fans, and take revenge over the team that finally ended the invincibles.
Let’s break Hearts.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)