On the back of a poor display against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park a fortnight ago, Celtic secured a seemingly morale-boosting win against Feyenoord three days later. It was the club’s first victory in the Champions League in 16 attempts, and it lifted the mood heading into the league encounter that weekend against Hearts.
Despite Liel Abada, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Cameron Carter-Vickers all missing the final European encounter of the season, an understrength Celtic finally claimed a Champions League scalp at home.
Players who would ordinarily be on the fringes when at full-strength were drafted in against the Dutch champions, with Stephen Welsh being the pick of the bunch alongside Liam Scales in a solid back line. Welsh’s defensive partner continued his rich run of form with the UEFA Champions League player-of-the-match, as he continues to prove that his performances are no flash in the pan.
A starring role from Luis Palma pushed the Hoops towards victory, with outcast Gustaf Lagerbielke scoring a last minute winner in his first appearance for the club since a start against Motherwell on 30th September, a game which also saw a last-minute goal scored by a Scandinavian.
It was hoped, then, that these European endeavours would have reinvigorated Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic team against Hearts, going some way towards restoring some much-needed confidence in a Celtic side that desperately needed it after the loss to Derek McInnes’ dogged outfit.
Cameron Carter-Vickers returned to the starting line-up, with Stephen Welsh dropping to the bench and match-winner Gustaf Lagerbielke missing out entirely. Would Welsh have felt hard done-by? Maybe slightly as he had performed well in his return, but with a lack of game time and the return of Celtic’s defensive rock, it was a decision that should not have come as any great surprise.
Nat Phillips suffered a similar fate to the Swede. Having been highlighted as a weak link by some fans after a poor performance against Kilmarnock, the Liverpool loanee was relegated to the bench for Feyenoord, then dropped out of the squad against Hearts. Gustaf Lagerbielke may have had more cause for complaint following his match-winning goal against the Dutch champions, but these were decisions that all but confirmed that the future of both players could lie elsewhere come January.
Mitchell Frame is another player who might have fancied his chances of inclusion in the squad to face Hearts. The young full-back was brought on for his Celtic debut in place of Greg Taylor against Feyenoord and he didn’t falter under the lights of the big occasion.
Taylor’s performance levels have come under criticism in recent weeks, with his display at his former stomping ground particularly uninspiring. With there being a serious lack of a genuine back-up option for the Scotland international, this would have provided the perfect opportunity to continue the youngster’s development, but Brendan Rodgers had another surprise up his sleeve.
Alexandro Bernabei was brought in from the cold for a seat on the bench instead, cancelling out the hopes of young Frame and many supporters who were keen to see more from the Academy graduate.
With Rodgers throwing a few selection curveballs for the visit of Hearts, let’s look back on how the team performed:
Joe Hart – 5
Hart had one of his best games in a Celtic shirt against Feyenoord as he kept out Santiago Gimenez on multiple occasions. He missed out on that elusive clean-sheet but would have been happy with what could have been his final appearance at Champions League level.
The English stopper followed that performance up with a fairly quiet afternoon against Hearts in which he still conceded two goals. His attempt at Stephen Kingsley’s free-kick could have been better, as he got his positioning all wrong.
Alistair Johnston – 4
The Canadian was another standout performer against Feyenoord but he was caught out of position late on for Yankuba Minteh’s equaliser. He had been a steady performer this season but had an extremely poor first-half against the Jambos, which saw him hooked at half-time to be replaced by Anthony Ralston.
Cameron Carter-Vickers – 5
The American defender made some great blocks to prevent Hearts from further adding to their two-goal lead and wasn’t to blame for anything that went wrong against the Tynecastle side.
Liam Scales – 6
Scales was awarded the UEFA player-of-the-match against Feyenoord mid-week as he continued his resurgence in the Celtic side. The Irishman enjoyed plenty of the ball against Hearts and was looking to make something happen, but he couldn’t enforce any creativity into the Celtic frontlines with his long passing.
Greg Taylor – 5
The left-back turned in a decent display against Feyenoord but didn’t have any positive effect on the Hearts game, as he continues to look a shadow of his former self this season. The Scotland cap was replaced by James Forrest with 20 minutes to go.
Matt O’Riley – 5
O’Riley hasn’t been as involved over the last few weeks but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing with goals and assists. His assist for Lagerbielke’s late winner against Feyenoord was nothing short of phenomenal.
The Dane had another quiet performance against Hearts, where he didn’t enjoy the influence on proceedings we have come to expect.
Callum McGregor – 6
The captain was one of precious few players who showed some real intent to try and make something happen. He was growing visibly frustrated in the second-half, with the manager noting post-match that, at times, McGregor was doing the work of three players.
David Turnbull – 5
With Tomoki Iwata picking up an injury against Feyenoord, David Turnbull returned to the starting line-up against Hearts.
The midfielder had a decent first-half, where he had a few long-range efforts that went close, but he was hooked at the break and was replaced by Oh Hyeon-gyu.
Mikey Johnston – 4
Mikey Johnston didn’t exactly set the world alight mid-week, and James Forrest made a positive impact from the bench, but Brendan Rodgers opted to start the Irish internationalist.
Johnston failed to offer much of a threat in the first-half and, with Daizen Maeda waiting in the wings, it seemed inevitable that he would be hooked at half-time.
Kyogo Furuhashi – 5
After being dropped in favour of Oh in the previous few games, the Japanese forward returned to the starting line-uo against Feyenoord but couldn’t provide the finishing touch to any of his chances against the Dutch champions.
Back to domestic action and Kyogo passed up a huge opportunity to bring Celtic level shortly after Hearts’ opener. Following this guilt-edged chance, the striker cut an isolated figure for the rest of the first-half. The addition of Oh Hyeon-gyu at half-time got him a bit more involved in the game but he is still a far cry from his brilliant best at the moment.
Luis Palma – 5
The Honduran caused plenty of problems for the Hearts backline and he was one of few Celtic players who actually looked like they could make something happen.
Daizen Maeda – 4
Maeda returned to action for the first time since sustaining an injury against Atlético Madrid and he was given a titanic task to aid the Celtic comeback effort upon his return from injury. He couldn’t make much of an impact in the 45 minutes he had on the park.
Oh Hyeon-gyu – 4
Oh was brought on to help provide some support for Kyogo Furuhashi but he couldn’t impact the game positively.
Anthony Ralston – 5
Ralston showed plenty of attacking intent when he replaced Alistair Johnston at half-time.
Alexandro Bernabei – 4
The Argentine flashed a few crosses into the Hearts box but couldn’t make much happen in a rare appearance for the left-back.
James Forrest – 4
Forrest offered another attacking option as Celtic desperately searched for some goals but he couldn’t have much of an influence on the game.
Three takeaways from defeat to Jambos
Celtic slumped to their second consecutive league defeat and it is the first time the Hoops have lost back-to-back league games since 2013 as the team’s departure from the field at full-time was greeted with boos and jeers from the support.
One thing that is evident is that Celtic have been on a downward spiral over the last few weeks, and whilst it hasn’t always been clear as the team continued to win, the consecutive league defeats have painted the picture for all to see.
Kyogo out of form
It was another quiet afternoon from Kyogo Furuhashi as his poor run of form continued, now having just one goal in his last 12 appearances in all competitions. He was dropped from the team leading into the Feyenoord game after some poor performances but his few games out of action haven’t had the desired effect.
He had some chances against Hearts and should have been on the scoresheet early in the second-half, passing up a pivotal opportunity after the chance was put on a plate for the Japanese forward by Luis Palma.
Even the addition of Oh Hyeon-gyu in the second-half to provide further support for Kyogo couldn’t get him more involved in the game and too many matches are continuing to pass Celtic’s talisman by.
Celtic need to figure out how to get Kyogo back to his best, and that is a task that falls firmly at the feet of the manager.
Lack of inspiration from the bench
It has been evident over the last few weeks that Celtic have been lacking players waiting in the wings to really influence a game from the bench.
It was the case against Kilmarnock and, even with the addition of Daizen Maeda to the Celtic bench against Hearts, you still felt that no one on that Celtic substitutes bench could really be the difference-maker that would drag Celtic back into the game.
This goes to Celtic’s poor handling of the summer transfer window where too few players of real quality were signed, which now leaves Celtic in a position where there aren’t many back-up players that the supporters and the manager can really rely on.
Weak performance from full-backs
Greg Taylor’s poor form this season has been widely discussed by supporters, but something that has gone a little under the radar has been the stagnation of Alistair Johnston’s form.
The Canadian made a flying start to life at Celtic but since then there hasn’t been many improvements in his game, especially this season.