Celtic scored three goals and took all three points from Hearts yesterday. This was a game that was far from a foregone conclusion though.
Hearts took the lead in the 5th minute with a fine goal from Jamie Walker after being played in by Juanma. That silenced the home crowd and had many wondering whether Celtic had it in them to turn things around.
That collective thought was answered when Gary Mackay-Steven pounced on a badly cleared header from creater-turned-offender, Juanma. The ball was controlled and smashed home from the edge of the box to level things in the 15th minute, the only real contribution by the former Dundee United player if I’m being honest.
From thereon in both teams tussled but Hearts had the lions share of possession. Ronny Deila’s choice to go attack minded didn’t pay off the midfield battle but it did produce the goals.
On 35 minutes a superb piece of individual work by Tom Rogic allowed him to slip through a pass to Patrick Roberts. The Manchester City loanee was bearing down on goal and chipped the ball past Neil Alexander to give Celtic the lead.
Having gone a goal down early and now heading in at half-time in the lead, it set things up for a good second half. Celtic weren’t playing at their best but the game was by no means dull and Hearts were giving it their all.
Celtic rubber stamped their authority 3 minutes after the restart with another superb goal from Roberts. This time the winger had the ball himself and as he ran into the box he unleashed a left foot strike early to beat any defensive challenge and ease it past the goalkeeper who had only begun to position himself.
At 3-1 and playing at home you would think you are safe but Hearts were still posing a serious threat in terms of possession and goal mouth chances inlcuding a free kick which came off the top of the bar. Celtic had their chances as well, but Leigh Griffiths, so desperate to score against Hearts, was out of luck.
The in form striker was unlucky not to score with two great free kicks. From open play though he was not getting his way and was later substituted for Colin Kazim-Richards who despite his lack of game time had more physical presence than Griffiths.
In fairness to Neil Alexander in the Hearts goal, he is a good keeper and earned his wages despite conceding three goals. Hearts gave a very good account of themselves and were unlucky not to get anything from the game.
The only real fly in the ointment for Hearts was the performance of Juwon Oshaniwa. Although Hearts were playing a physical game, something I have no problem with, Oshaniwa was taking matters a little too far.
He ploughed dangerously into Tom Rogic which resulted in head injuries to both players and the Aussie having to be substituted before the end of the first half. During that clash of heads, an all out brawl was close to occurring as well.
The matter was sorted promptly when Griffiths and Prince Buaben were both booked, the former’s booking rather harsh in my opinion. Later on in the game and having already been booked for a bad foul in the first half, Oshaniwa was shown a second yellow in the second half.
It was nothing less than the Nigerian international deserved though. There is nothing wrong with being committed but he was veering more on the side of headlessness in this match.
Even though Celtic’s midfield was misfiring throughout the game, hindered by an out-of-sorts Scott Brown, the defence was relatively solid. Overall, the difference between the two teams were the goals and they were all fine goals at that.
Robbie Neilson should be proud of what he has achieved with this team in such a short space of time and on such a small budget. Unless something horrible happens, his players should be pushing not just Aberdeen next season, but Celtic as well.
Now the ball is in Aberdeen’s court today for their home tie with Hamilton Accies. The pressure is on the Dons to keep up with Celtic, but I don’t think this is a game they will throw away.
They can’t afford to let Celtic move too far ahead or allow Hearts to catch up. Hamilton Accies may have other ideas though as they attempt to stay out of the playoff spot in the Scottish Premiership.