Tuesday 30th January, 2018
Edouard (3'), Boyata (25'), Dembele (36')- Lafferty (67')
AFTER suffering defeat for the first time in 69 games against Hearts back in December, Celtic dished out a comfortable beating to their capital city rivals this evening. Moussa Dembele returned to goalscoring form with strike partner Odsonne Edouard and marauding centre back Boyata also adding to the Champions' goal tally during a 1st half which saw the Hoops produce some of their best football so far this campaign.
The Celtic players emerged from the tunnel tonight with revenge clearly on their mind(s) and from the very outset played at a ferocious tempo, which the Hearts XI could not cope with early doors. Levein's outfit did try to once again get in the faces of the home side, but on the vast open space of Celtic Park, toiled to get anywhere near the sort of performance they had produced on their own turf last month.
The first goal was not long in coming, and it was the old fashioned double strike partnership that produced it as a result of some neat link up. Moussa Dembele - still trying to shake off what seems like constant transfer speculation - held the ball up well for Edouard to then pounce onto, and after doing so, the number 22 surged away from the chasing Hearts defenders, before coolly and clinically smashing the ball high into the net with his left foot. A perfect start, on an evening when a marker simply had to be laid down early on by Celtic against a Hearts side who have not been conceding goals on a regular basis as of late.
The quick start was followed by prolonged and penetrating periods of possession by the home side, with Hearts struggling to trap the ball for any worthwhile period of time. The Hoops were playing at a pace that had not been in their game for some time prior. This could definitely have been as a result of the switch up in formation and personnel, with Rodgers choosing to go with what looked reminiscent of a 3-4-2-1 at times, with Ajer, Simunovic and Boyata having another impressive night out at the back. It was however, the midfield trio who left behind the most lasting impression following the 90 minutes. Brown, Eboue Kouassi and Olivier Ntcham were all imperious on the night, providing the right combination of pace, power and skill to outmatch their opponents on a regular basis. Eboue in particular can be delighted with his performance, as the young Ivorian once again showed the Celtic fans - and his manager - just what he is all about. He appears to be one who the fans will take to in no time, with his eye for a pass, strength in the tackle and never say die attitude evident throughout.
It seemed only a matter of time before the Celts were to be rewarded with a second goal for their efforts, and it was to come from an unlikely source. Dedryck Boyata, who has so often worried the Celtic support with his unpredictability at the back, found himself within the 6-yard box on the 26th minute, thanks to a lovely slipped ball by Moussa Dembele once again. Despite the nose bleed, the big Belgian was to make no mistake and slotted the ball under Hearts' McGlaughlin in goals to put his side 2-0 up and give that extra bit of 'breathing space' that can so regularly prove to be crucial in football. It was only fitting that Boyata grabbed himself a goal, on an evening where he was solid throughout in defence and deserves great credit.
Boyata slides home like a seasoned striker to make it 2-0
Now all that was left was for Dembele himself to put the ball in the net. The highly sought after Frenchman hasn't had an easy time of late, having failed to score in 8 matches prior and looked especially rusty during his last outing against Hibs at the weekend. Tonight however, he led the line in the fashion we have come to expect during his 18 months at the club. His goal was a great poacher's finish and came courtesy of an incredible piece of set up play by the ever reliable Kieran Tierney at left back, the man - or boy whichever way you see it - who seems to do no wrong anytime he steps out onto the park. The 20 year old marauded down the left hand side all throughout the game and this occasion was no different, as he jinked back inside his marker to fire the ball across to Dembele, who got a lovely touch on the ball to divert it home. Barely half an hour had passed and it was already looking like a 'batten down the hatches' type night for the away side.
The 2nd half continued in much the same fashion as the first, with Celtic probing and keeping possession well, granted, if not playing at the same frightening pace at times. It was made more interesting by the fact that the home support were able to get their first glimpse in the flesh of new bhoy, Charly Musonda. The no.67 was brought on just before the hour mark to make his debut and provided a decent cameo, with a number of flicks wowing the fans and should perhaps even have grabbed himself a debut goal, with a couple of chances presenting themselves. Once the young Belgian becomes more accustomed to his new side's style and actually gets to know his teammates, he will no doubt flourish.
The one sour note of the entire game for Celtic did come on the 67th minute, however -what are the chances- with pantomime villain Kyle Lafferty latching onto an error by captain Scott Brown, to curl home a nice effort from the edge of the Celtic box. Dorus De Vries could do very little about it, as the Dutchman returned to the starting XI following Craig Gordon's untimely injury which will see him sidelined for much of the remainder of the season.
All smiles as Musonda makes his debut
It is worth noting however that the goal was literally Hearts' only real chance of the evening, as the Celtic backline and midfield combined to give them very little to work with. The performance by the home side was highly encouraging for the most part and with the likes of Tom Rogic, Patrick Roberts, Scott Sinclair, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths not even starting, the second half of the 2017/18 season is all set up to be another cracker.