PAUL JOHN DYKES:
By the time the New Year’s resolutions are being well and truly obliterated within the first week of 2020, Celtic will have dealt with an energy-sapping and wallet-hammering run of nine December matches. This sequence has already yielded the club its first silverware of the new season virtue of the League Cup, a trip to Transylvania to see out the Europa League group commitments, and three league fixtures negotiated with a 100% success rate.
Hibs were the latest casualties of Neil Lennon’s unrelenting treble-winning machine, and their Edinburgh neighbours are next as Celtic enter the toxic bowels of Tynecastle.
Hearts have been poor all season and will be hoping that their new gaffer can inject some momentum into a side who have won just one game in 12.
Celtic, on the other hand, are in the midst of a seemingly unstoppable run, where they have only been beaten once (away to Cluj) in 14.
The backbone of Lennon’s side – Fraser Forster, Kris Ajer, James Forrest, Scott Brown and Callum McGregor – have been supplemented of late with the exciting Jeremie Frimpong, who has been the find of this season by some distance.
The key for Lenny is to win the game and manage the legs, with the fixtures coming at pace as we hurtle towards the winter shut-down.
Celtic will win this game 2-0 and Frimpong will have every Hoops’ fan on their feet half-a-dozen times.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
Celtic are already five matches into a packed month of nine fixtures in total. It is no surprise that Lennon has ‘rotated’ his squad in certain games, either by choice or through injury. As a consequence, performances have been up and down, even if we only suffered one loss away to Cluj in this busy period.
As mentioned, we have seen Lennon ring the changes in recent matches. Some of the squad of players we would perhaps currently class as fringe, or developing, have seized their opportunity and will go on to feature through the rest of this season and beyond. Others have missed this chance to shine and might not find their way back into the match-day squad, never mind the starting XI, any time soon.
Sunday versus Hibernian saw a return for some players who were either injured or rested over the last few matches, but still with a couple of names in there which may have raised an eyebrow based on their position on the pitch. A comfortable 2-0 win was duly delivered.
We now face a further four fixtures in the run-up to the Winter break, which would leave us 8 points ahead of our nearest rival, were we to win them all. Easier said than done with matches against Hearts (a), Aberdeen, St Mirren (a) and The Rangers to come. This run of ties is partly down to a quirk of fate which will leave us having played one match more than them at the winter break, and we can all agree that three points on the board is better than a game in hand!
An eight-point lead, to go with the League Cup plus a European tie to look forward to against Copenhagen, would be a great way to ring in the New Year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves where the League is concerned.
While not quite a return to ‘natural order’, I would expect Lennon to once more look to a similar starting XI and match-day squad to win the game against Hearts on Wednesday evening, as that for the Hibs game. The Tynecastle side have a solitary win in their last ten matches, and although they seem to have tightened things at the back since their drubbings at the hands of The Rangers and Kilmarnock, they are also not scoring many either.
Their new manager, Daniel Stendel, came into the club during last week. This was perhaps too late to give them the clichéd ‘new manager bounce’ against St Johnstone, as the German watched his new side lose 1-0. After the game he stated there was “more work than expected” and has since gone on to talk about the “low confidence” among the team and how unimpressed he is with the Hearts’ squad overall.
Let’s hope Celtic add to the dark mood around Gorgie and deny Stendel that ‘bounce’. A strong performance from a Celtic team high in confidence but also able to win when playing below par, should be more than enough for Hearts.
Celtic to win 3-0.
In a month where it seems like hardly a day passes by since we last saw Celtic play, here we are once again back on the road to Edinburgh to back the Bhoys.
Sunday’s performance was all about getting the three points, and I would imagine tonight will be the same. Hearts have been on a terrible run as of late but with new manager Daniel Stendel having only recently taken over at Tynecastle, the Gorgie faithful will be expecting an upturn in form, starting tonight.
Hearts go into the game tonight without Uche Ipeazu and Steven Naismith, so expect Steven MacLean and Aidan Keena to once again lead the line for the Jambos, who have only scored once in their last five matches.
Celtic should be boosted by the return of Ryan Christie, who has been in phenomenal form this season. His ability to score from outside the box might be what is needed to break the deadlock this evening.
I’m predicting Hearts 0 Celtic 2 with Ryan Christie to score anytime.Watch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind