Like you, for the most part, the football I have watched is mundane. It is a necessary process towards an objective. Last night was so different, I loved the game.
If you sit anywhere near me, there is a mantra you will hear whenever Celtic are well on top but not in the lead, “We need to score when are this dominant.” You have seen the movie, good play is not always rewarded, and right now, we cannot afford to be on the end of a hard luck story.
By the time of Kyogo’s 33 minute goal, Celtic could have been well out of sight, but Hearts clung on. Craig Gordon, the post and a multitude of faces and bodies got in the way of shots from dangerous positions. Despite being behind, Hearts wasted time until 70 minutes, we mocked them, imagine wasting time when you are losing!
Credit to Robbie Neilson. He knew his team could not cope with Celtic for any sustained period so sent them out to slow the game down, irrespective of the score, and wait to see if events would conspire to help them. They did.
Tom Rogic and Carl Starfelt made their first appearance for over a month and James Forrest made his first league start in as long. Rogic and Forrest were scheduled to be hooked when they tired. Then events, dear bhoy, happened. First Anthony Ralston limped off a few minutes after creating the goal. Stephen Welsh put his leg in to block and took a blow with 20 minutes remaining, he left soon thereafter, but not before Jota pulled up with a hamstring injury.
Celtic’s subs were all used, Rogic, Forrest and Starfelt needed to find the energy to finish the game. At this, Hearts stopped wasting time and started to look like a football team. They dominated play until the closing minutes of the game. In that time, they created good chances that could have seen them leave with a point, throwing our title campaign into more turmoil, but the defence held firm, Joe Hart was not called on to make a save worthy of the name.
Neilson could contemplate the words of the late Ebbe Skovdahl, who after a visit to Celtic Park with Aberdeen, with enormous clarity, quoted from a 40s Western, “The operation was a success but the patient died.” Neilson did as well as he could, despite the loss.
Starfelt was a star. A diving header 8 yards from goal, at an angle it was easy to get wrong and truly test Hart, was illustrative of his imperious performance. That night at Tynecastle seems a long time ago. Stephen Welsh continues to grow into the role of first team regular. Anthony Ralston did what Anthony Ralston does – sends in crosses the like of which we have not seen from full backs in years.
Josip Juranovic got to play almost an hour at his natural right back position. He is a player who will continue to flourish.
Although Carl won Man of the Match, my vote went to Tom Rogic. Celtic have been particularly left sided in recent weeks. Play went through Jota, by some margin our most creative force. This is problematic, as opponents plan for this. With Tom on the field, we could pivot away from our Portuguese, causing disarray in the Hearts defence.
All of that is a moot point for the games ahead, let’s hope Jota’s hamstring is better for the Cup Final.
I’m not one for writing about referees, as you know, but will touch on this tomorrow.