Celtic travelled to Edinburgh yesterday to face Hearts in the League Cup Semi Final. After a venue switch from Glasgow, Murrayfield was the agreed location for this tie.
Hearts used the rugby stadium whilst Tynecastle was being renovated a year ago. They played four fixtures between September and November last season at the home of Scottish rugby.
Celtic themselves played two matches there under Ronny Deila whilst Celtic Park was being utilised for the Commonwealth Games. They competed against KR Reykjavik and Legia Warsaw in 2014 during their Champions League qualifying campaign.
So this was familiar turf for some players though not everyone. Brendan Rodgers himself wanted the team to feel the benefit of the stadium beforehand as Hearts were more familiar with it.
And let’s face it, Murrayfield isn’t a million miles away for Hearts home ground either. I walked past Tynecastle on my way to Murrayfield four years ago for the Legia Warsaw game.
Both teams had injuries to contend with going into this match. Celtic also had a midweek Europa League away defeat to recover from.
They welcomed back Tom Rogic, James Forrest and Filip Benkovic with Dedryck Boyata out suspended along with the injured Scott Brown, Leigh Griffiths, Jozo Simunovic, Cristian Gamboa and apparently Youssouff Mulumbu as well. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Kris Ajer.
The up-and-coming defender has been out for a month and has also been missed. We all expected to see Jack Hendry alongside Benkovic, but Brendan slotted the Norwegian youngster in along with the Croatian centre half, Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig, the latter wearing the captains armband.
Celtic lined up otherwise as expected with Oliver Ntcham and Eboue Kouassi the anchors in midfield. Forrest, Rogic and Callum McGregor sat behind Odsonne Edouard in attack.
The first half saw a soft yellow card given to Steven MacLean in the 2nd minute, Steven Naismith went off injured in the 8th minute and Kouassi was substitued in the 26th minute. None of that aided the flow of the first 45 minutes which was very scrappy by both teams.
With no goals before the interval, something had to give in this semi final. And it didn’t take long either.
Before the restart Celtic suffered another injury blow with Nthcam being replaced Ryan Christie. Would Christie seize the moment?
Well, whilst we were all worrying about losing our shape, Christie had others ideas. McGregor dropped deep allowing Christie to play further forward and eight minutes into the second half he won a penalty.
It looked soft and the decision had everyone split from the studio to the stands. Having said that the Hearts defender never protested and Willie Collum couldn’t have had a better view.
As Chris Sutton said, had that been outside the box a free kick would have been awarded without hesitation. The penalty perhaps comes across as being harsh because there was minimal contact, but to be fair that is on the Hearts player.
If it’s not a penalty then Collum has to book Christie for diving. Though the only player to do something stupid in the box was Oliver Bozanic.
I don’t think Christie made any more of it than any other player would have and he is entitled to do so. I’ve seen worse attempts by Celtic players trying to con the referee and this wasn’t one of them.
So up stepped Scott Sinclair, who himself had come off the bench for Kouassi in the first half, to give Celtic the lead. It also provided the Hoops with a springboard for the rest of the match.
If the first half was ragged, Celtic were beginning to look sharp in the second. The football was flowing so much better and with that, another goal.
Christie, in about matters again, had a shot spilled by Zdenek Zlamal. The ball looked to have crossed the line before it was scooped out by the goalkeeper, but James Forrest pounced quickly to put it in the net on 66 minutes.
Celtic were really into their stride now. Not happy with winning a penalty and losing the goal award to his team mate, Christie got a goal he could claim for himself.
As the ball ran free 25 yards from the Hearts goal, the midfielder latched onto it and placed an unstoppable shot past Zlamal. This time it was Christie’s and it was a belter.
Having signed for Celtic just over three years ago, the midfielder has had limited opportunities under two Celtic managers. He’s played more football on his three loan spells than he has for his parent club.
There are many Celtic fans who believe he isn’t good enough for the Hoops. For a player who hasn’t really had a chance that is a bit harsh.
He was brilliant at Aberdeen last season. Outwith Celtic, he was one of the best midfielders in Scotland.
Christie is one of many young talented players recruited by Celtic in recent years who never really got given a fair chance. Scott Allan is another and like Christie found better opportunities out on loan.
The question for Brendan Rodgers now is does he stick by him? If he does he’ll know whether he is worth another contract.
His current deal expires next summer along with the likes of Allan, Broony, Boyata, Lustig, Gamboa, Izaguirre and de Vries. Is it too late or has Christie just got himself a golden ticket?
We’ll see. One thing’s for sure, he was yesterday’s star man and I’m over the moon for him.
What was even more impressive were the circumstances. European hangover and injuries before and during this match meant the gauntlet had been well and truly thrown down.
The Bhoys responded. None more Ryan Christie.
Now a place in the final is secure. We will be joined by Aberdeen who disposed of Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side at Hampden.
The treble remains on the table. Well done Bhoys and well done Ryan Christie.