Hearts Crushed by rampant Celts
Celtic - 4 (Griffiths 29, 63, Sinclair 51, McGregor 73)
Hearts - 1 (Goncalves 84)
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Saturday 5th August
There was no European hangover following on from Celtic’s impressive win in Norway during the week as last season’s invincibles put a disjointed Hearts side to the sword. The Edinburgh side parted company with manager Ian Cathro in the previous week and it was up to interim manager Jon Daly to pick up the pieces. It was never going to be an easy task for the Dubliner who was coming up against a side who were clearly buoyed by their European exploits and would be celebrating last season’s glorious domestic campaign with the raising of the Championship flag by captain Scott Brown, on the beginning of his tenth season at the club.
To be fair to Hearts, they did make life difficult for the Scottish champions in the opening half hour, but there was always a sense that it was only a matter of time before the opening goal would arrive for the home side. The goal did arrive on 28 minutes and it was no great surprise who the finisher was. Leigh Griffiths, who rounded off a superb season with the hoops last season with a similarly spectacular display at Hampden for his country in June against England with two stunning free kicks, opened the scoring at Celtic Park after he had been found by a wonderful through ball from centre half Nir Bitton. Celtic’s number 9 seemed to have taken a touch too many, but a brilliant piece of improvisation allowed the hitman to create the opportunity of hitting the ball into an empty net with his right foot. It was a goal that the Bhoys deserved and one which signalled the beginning of a long afternoon for the Jambos.
A familiar sight for Hearts supporters: Griffiths celebrates yet another goal against the Jambos
As Brendan Rodgers’ side so often do, they began the second half like a house on fire and it only took five minutes for the lead to be doubled. Daly will have been disappointed with the nature of the goal that was conceded, as it could easily have been avoided. Griffiths turned provider when his superbly whipped corner proved too much to deal with for even the experienced Aaron Hughes in the centre of the Hearts defence, and his lacklustre clearance only managed to find the feet of Scott Sinclair, who was never going to miss from only a few yards with his left foot.
In less than a quarter of an hour later the lead was extended three thanks to some incise build up play and movement. Brown, McGregor and Forrest were all involved in what was patient build-up play, before McGregor peeled to the edge of the box and was found by an elegantly weighted pass by the skipper. McGregor only needed to take one touch on his stride before cutting the ball back for Leigh Griffiths who headed the ball into an open net from only six yards out. It was the type of football that epitomised Celtic under Rodgers; intricate movement and passing, matched with a ruthlessness in the final third.
Against Rosenborg in Norway on Wednesday, it was the diligence of Scott Sinclair which created the opening for James Forrest to score his wonderful goal and the build up play for the fourth goal against Hearts was eerily similar. Sinclair once again dropped deep, receiving the ball from Simunovic before leaving two Hearts players for dead. The English wingers pace allowed him to drive at the Hearts defence, drag their defence out of shape and create an opening for the anticipating McGregor. The busy midfielder’s first touch was sublime, allowing him to thunder the ball into the roof of the net, leaving Jack Hamilton with no chance in goal.
Rodgers looks on as his side put in impressive display in League campaign opener
Understandably, an element of sloppiness did creep into the home side’s game for the remaining fifteen minutes or so. A heavy pre-season load coupled with a midweek slog in Norway resulted in fatigued bodies and minds and this enabled Hearts the opportunity to pull one back through Esmael Goncalves. The green and white back four appeared to hold too high a line and were somewhat disjointed, which allowed the Portuguese winger the space to run into the box, before smashing it past Craig Gordon from a tight angle. Scotland’s number one will have been disappointed he didn’t get a stronger hand to the effort, but in truth it was a mere consolation which bore no reflection on the outcome of the match. If anything, the goal will be a stark reminder to Brendan Rodgers’ side that even the slightest bit of complacency at any moment can result in being punished.
The Hoops wont have much time to dwell on their opening day victory, as Kilmarnock make the trip to Glasgow for the last 16 of the Scottish League Cup on Tuesday, in which the invincibles from last season will be beginning their defence of the competition followed by the short trip to Partick Thistle on Friday August 11th. In what has been an impressive opening to the season for the champions, they will be looking to kick on on all fronts domestically, while securing qualification to the lucrative Champions League group stages by overcoming Astana once more in the play off ties this month.