For a select few teams this season, going there was something of a novelty. Hearts have played there a few times in recent years, including a few games in Europe and even a friendly match against Barcelona, but that pretty much meant you had to be a Hearts fan to experience it.
Or just someone who figured it would be nice to see Barcelona. How was I to know they’d end up being practically a regular fixture on our calendar?!
But while teams like Aberdeen and St Johnstone got to play Hearts in the league at Murrayfield, the rest of us are at the renovated Tynecastle, new office block main stand and all.
Then again, we’ve been there already. That 3-0 win over Legia Warsaw was great, wasn’t it?!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Hearts have managed to get Tynecastle up to spec. In terms of atmosphere for a match day it was always one of the best in Scotland. But given the way things worked out with delays, it would have been far more fair on the other clubs in Scotland to all have played Hearts at Murrayfield once.
After all, Inverness had to do that when they first came up to the top flight. They played a full card of fixtures at Pittodrie before they were allowed to go back to Inverness.
Mind you, it’s not like there isn’t precedent for this mess. When Fir Park was almost constantly a bog, someone thought it was a great idea to have Gretna groundshare with Motherwell the season they were in the top flight. Fir Park become unplayable, to the point that we played Gretna at three separate venues that season – Celtic Park, Fir Park, and Almondvale in Livingston!
But Tynecastle it is for Celtic today, and the last time we visited the home of Hearts we clinched our sixth league title in a row. Scott Sinclair, back at the venue where he made his scoring debut for Celtic, scored a hat trick that day while Stuart Armstrong and Patrick Roberts got the other two.
We’ve played Hearts twice more since that day, both coming at Celtic Park. The final league game of last season saw Celtic win 2-0 thanks to goals from Leigh Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong to clinch the unbeaten league season, while the match that opened this league season saw Celtic win 4-1. Two goals from Griffiths, one from Sinclair and one from Callum McGregor in that game.
But as with quite a few games this season, the one that Hearts scored was the disappointment. It was a late goal from Esmael Goncalves, and one where we really did seem to have fallen asleep. When you’re 4-0 up you don’t really mind too much, unless you’re Craig Gordon trying to keep the clean sheet of course! But losing sloppy goals has been something that’s happened all too often this season, including again in midweek at home to Hamilton.
Those aren’t the games you worry about though. Losing the odd goal in four or five is fine. It’s the sloppy goals that turn a 2-0 into a 2-2 that really bother you. Our last trip to Edinburgh ended that way, and since then both teams immediately behind us have picked up maximum points against Hibernian.
We’re still top of the league, and indeed including today we have two games in hand over the teams below us, but dropping sloppy points can only happen so often. We still have five games to play this month, including home games against our two nearest challengers.
If we can get maximum points from these five games, it would go a long way to securing a seventh consecutive league title. With Europe to come again in the new year, a buffer between us and the rest of the league would be more than welcome.
But first we have to beat Hearts. They haven’t lost any of their last five games, and have won the last two. Kilmarnock at the start of November was their last defeat, with Motherwell and Dundee both being defeated in the last week or so.
Of course, all of the matches have come at Tynecastle. So not only do Hearts have home advantage today, but they’ve not actually played a competitive match anywhere else. The defeat against Kilmarnock was their last match at Murrayfield!
Given Craig Levein’s style, I’d expect a tough game today. Jon Daly was the caretaker in charge last time we faced Hearts, so today should be a more turgid affair. It’s up to Celtic to unlock Hearts and get the goals we need, hopefully this time without conceding any ourselves.
That won’t be easy though. We’ve seen in recent weeks that teams are finding ways to stop Celtic. It hasn’t stopped us scoring in any of those games yet, but we’re certainly having to work for them. That’s good, because it means we’ll need to improve our game. But a busy period like December is the most difficult time to do that.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)