An Enjoyable Evening And Good Domestic Test

I enjoyed Celtic’s 3-1 win over Hearts last night. It’s nice to be tested domestically and to have to work for the win. All three goals were excellent from us, the atmosphere was decent and we move closer to another title.

By Ange Postecoglou’s own admission, we weren’t anywhere near our best, but we did move the ball quickly and create a number of good opportunities. Meanwhile, the game was highly competitive and the points weren’t wrapped up until late in the match.

Much like at the weekend, there was no panic in me when Celtic went behind. There was a long way to go and this team are always on the front foot so I knew chances would come. They arrived through a cross from Maeda to Abada, which the Israeli scuffed wide, and a great pass from Starfelt to Maeda who should have squared the ball to Kyogo.

The goal did eventually come when Ralston played an exceptional pass inside the opposing full back for Kyogo to run on to. The Japanese striker passed the ball across the box for his compatriot Maeda to slot home and I punched the air in joy at drawing level. I thought Ralston looked very rusty tonight, his play was erratic, but he produced three really top class defence splitting passes and this was one of them.

 Daizen Maeda  scores the team’s first goal during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Hearts at Celtic Park on March 08, 2023. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

With Maeda forced off through injury, Jota came on and nearly got Celtic’s second with a great effort that hit the post. Jota was steady on the wing, though far from at his best. Behind him, I felt Bernabei was terrible. I know he has been excluded from the fold for some time and it’s nothing personal as I want all Celtic players to succeed, but he genuinely must have given the ball away over a dozen times and lost almost every headed duel.

He almost cost us a goal when he lost the ball in a dangerous area which allowed Hearts to pounce, but fortunately the resulting cross was well cleared, and he gave the referee a decision to make with a poor tackle (the referee and VAR made the correct call by not sending him off in my opinion, but he should have been booked).

I noted Bernabei’s run inside and pass to Haksabanovic for the third goal, which came shortly after he produced a nice bit of skill and pinpoint cross to present Ralston with a great chance, though I felt those two moments of encouraging play didn’t compensate for the rest of his performance. Hopefully he will improve with time and adjustment to his new surrounds. I know Ange expected more and he commented on that, mentioning that he has to allow for the fact that both full backs haven’t played for a long time.

 Zander Clark  is challenged by Kyogo Furuhashi during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Hearts at Celtic Park on March 08, 2023.. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

As the half time whistle sounded with Celtic level at 1-1, I was quite relaxed with how things were going. I fully expected us to kick on in the second half and I knew we had a lot of quality on the bench if we required it. The wider Celtic support must have felt the same way as they really backed the team vocally throughout. Even at 1-0 down the atmosphere had been very good, both the Green Brigade and Bhoys sections jumping in unison at their respective ends of the ground; particularly with raucous renditions of Uncle Nobby’s Steamboat and the SAM Song.

On the park, Aaron Mooy kept calm on the ball and began to dictate things more. McGregor and O’Riley were steady, the captain perhaps not quite dictating the game in the way he normally would but not doing anything wrong by any means. He continued to collect the ball and show patience by going back to the outlets of Starfelt and Carter-Vickers, who I thought was his usual outstanding self, before the play was switched side to side.

 Callum McGregor of Celtic celebrates victory following the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Hearts at Celtic Park on March 08, 2023  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

To their credit, Hearts defended well. But the crucial goal eventually came through a combination of great work rate and brilliant football. Jota tracked back at speed, stole the ball and then played a sharp pass inside. It was a brilliant piece of play, with his incisive pass taking six Hearts players out the game. Once Mooy had the ball at his feet with two attackers in front of him, I stood at the edge of my seat in anticipation.

He kept a typically cool head, intelligently delaying his pass until Kyogo made the run and then slid a well weighted ball for the striker to emphatically finish with a delightful sweeping first time shot. It was a mixture of delight, relief and admiration as the ball hit the net. Those feelings were expressed by myself through jumping up with my father and shouting some expletives with the additional words “get in there!”.

Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates after he scores his team’s second goal during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Hearts at on March 08, 2023 (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

At 2-1 I felt it’d probably be job done, but I’ve seen enough football to know that anything can happen. There were a couple of minutes where we dipped for a short spell, and some fans probably got a bit more stressed than they should have as Celtic were well in control. I thought we moved the ball about nicely, showed good patience but also maintained pace in our play.

Eventually, all the probing paid dividends when Ralston spotted an opportunity to play another delicious pass inside the full back and set Abada free. The Israeli had a simple pass to Kyogo available, but fluffed his lines. It was a frustrating moment for us all but that’s football. I was pleased to see Abada start and hoped he would nail down his starting position after performing so well from the bench recently. However, he had an off night. He wasn’t as good as he has been of late, but he’s a huge talent who will only become more consistent as he develops.

Haksabanovic replaced Abada as one of Ange’s traditional triple substitutions – Hatate and Oh being the other players to come on for O’Riley and Kyogo. The Montenegrin international is an outstanding player in my view, bringing goals and trickery to the table. It was he who secured the points as he drifted past two players and curled into the top corner. I’d love to see him get a run of games now.

 Sead Haksabanovic of Celtic celebrates after scoring the team’s third goal during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Hearts at Celtic Park on March 08, 2023.. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

That third goal crowned an entertaining game. Celtic showed flashes of quality and could have won the game by more, yet we were still made to work for the result. It was a competitive match and one which I enjoyed. We’ve seen a lot of stunning football which has provided great entertainment, but you can’t beat that “yassss” feeling of scoring important goals when you’re in a tight game.

It was a good win, an important three points and a great way to mark 100 games under the soon to be Celtic legend that is Ange Postecoglou.

Before I conclude this piece, I must also add that I thought Joe Hart played his role as sweeper keeper perfectly with a couple of great interceptions, and I’d also like to express my pleasure at defeating a Robbie Neilson side. Let’s hope we do so again on Saturday.

Liam Kelly

On this day in 1965, Jock Stein became manager of Celtic…David Potter’s bestseller The Celtic Rising ~ 1965: The Year Jock Stein Changed Everything is available now in print on Celtic Star Books, and also on Amazon kindle, links below…

About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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