Celtic were made to work hard to secure the three points at home to Hearts on Wednesday night in Ange Postecoglou’s milestone 100th game in charge of the club. For the second time in 4 days Celtic had to dig deep and recover from the loss of an early goal before seeing the game through with a relative degree of comfort.
Celtic made four changes to the side that faced St. Mirren on Sunday with the impressive Liel Abada starting in place of Jota, and Matt O’Riley returning in midfield in place of Reo Hatate. However, the Australian sprung a couple of surprise changes in the fullback positions with Anthony Ralston and Alexandro Bernabei coming in from the cold to replace Johnston and Taylor.
As is their way, Hearts came to Celtic Park with a game plan to frustrate their hosts and spoil Ange’s big occasion, but found themselves in front early on after Josh Ginnelly headed in an Andy Halliday cross. Anthony Ralston finding himself out of position with Hearts countering and making the most of the space in behind the right back.
There was a brief pause while the now obligatory VAR check went ahead before the goal was correctly awarded and for the second game in row Celtic had conceded first, and conceded early.
MEN OF CHARACTER
The beauty of Ange’s team is that they don’t let the loss of an early goal get them down. Instead, they dust themselves off and get back to trusting in the process. A process that had seen them win 73 out of 99 games under Postecoglou before Wednesday’s fixture.
In keeping with the game at the weekend, Celtic dominated after going behind but lacked their usual ruthlessness. Abada and Kyogo both missed decent chances before Daizen Maeda levelled, sliding in to turn Kyogo’s cross past Zander Clark.
The Japanese forward had looked lively up to that point and was deserving of his 10th goal of the season. Unfortunately, that would be Maeda’s last meaningful involvement in the game as he was soon subbed off injured, replaced by Jota, feeling the effects of a collision with Clark at the goal.
If Celtic lacked some of their usual verve and swagger in a hard fought first, they made up for it in the second as they turned the pressure up on Hearts.
Jota was demanding the ball at every opportunity and working back to regain possession when lost. The second goal came from such an action as Jota dispossessed Devlin near halfway before feeding Mooy infield. The midfielder played an inch perfect pass picking out the run of Kyogo who smashed a left foot shot beyond Clark.
REPLACEMENTS PLAYING THEIR PART
No doubt inspired by the example of Jota, Bernabei – who had been quiet in the first half – came to life, linking play and attacking with purpose.
The Argentine had a key role to play in Celtic’s third and final goal of the game. It was his pass that found Hakšabanović wide on the left, and his run that created space for the Montenegrin to cut inside and curl a delightful effort into the far corner.
Hearts rarely looked like adding to their early goal and only briefly threatened to spoil the party for Ange’s 100th game in charge. They will be out for revenge when the sides meet again on Saturday in the Scottish Cup.
Celtic, on the other hand, will have their eyes set firmly on winning the tie and taking another step towards a possible domestic treble.
One game at a time. Never stopping. Trusting in the process.