This week in Celtic’s INVINCIBLE season…
Below is an extract from INVINCIBLE, Matt Corr’s outstanding debut as a published Celtic writer, which was published in May 2020 by The Celtic Star. Our second book is titled Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys and is published next month. Invincible is a beautifully produced hardback and is highly recommended. Matt incidentally is also a Tour Guide at Celtic Park. You can follow him on social media via his Twitter account at @Boola_vogue. Over to Matt to describe a remarkable afternoon in that never to be forgotten season for Celtic…
A Celtic Star is Born and it’s wonderful, magical….
In the midst of the qualification process for the Champions League, Brendan Rodgers had faced his first domestic challenges as manager of Celtic.
The quest for six-in-a-row began in Edinburgh, the opening League fixture seeing the Hoops travel to Tynecastle on Sunday, 7 August 2016, four days after substitute Moussa Dembele’s late penalty winner against Astana. The big French striker came in from the start against Hearts to replace the injured Patrick Roberts, partnering Leigh Griffiths up top as Rodgers went with a 4-4-2 formation. Kolo Toure made his first start in the Hoops, beside Irish youngster Eoghan O’Connell in central defence.
The previous day, Brendan Rodgers had finally got his man, Scott Sinclair signing in a £3.5m transfer from Aston Villa. It had been a whirlwind 24-hours for the 27-year-old Bath-born winger, having undergone a medical before putting pen to paper on a four-year contract. Scott had previously worked under Rodgers at both Chelsea and Swansea, the latter spell seeing him top the scoring charts as the Welsh side secured a place in the English Premier League five years earlier. Sinclair said that he had “played my best football” at the Liberty Stadium, as he looked forward to a new life in Scotland.
“It feels amazing to have joined Celtic. It’s a massive club and I’m happy to be here. I can’t wait to get on the pitch. When I went back to Aston Villa for pre-season, I heard Celtic were interested and I just knew I had to come here. I had to look at this move, and I thought it would be great for me. And because I know the manager and I know what to expect, hopefully, I can get off to a flying start.”
A happy Celtic manager returned the implied compliment.
“I had him in at Chelsea when he was 16 years of age. I know him probably as well as anyone and I know his qualities.”
Sinclair would start on the bench at Tynecastle, however, there was a notable debut in the Hearts line-up, Tony Watt, dining out forever on THAT GOAL against Barcelona almost four years earlier. The big striker was no doubt hoping that he would find that elusive consistency with Robbie Neilson’s side. I did too. Just not today, Tony.
Celts were on the front foot from the kick-off, in front of 17,000 in the noisy cauldron of Tynecastle. And they struck first after only eight minutes, Callum McGregor’s run blocked by a defender – perhaps illegally – but the ball falling kindly for James Forrest, who curled a delightful left-foot shot past Jack Hamilton in the home goal for 1-0. Replays would later suggest that the lurking Stuart Armstrong was interfering with the goalkeeper’s line of sight from an offside position. I would certainly be claiming it. It was a real let-off for Celtic.
Midway through the first half, there were two incredible missed chances at either end within a minute. First, Watt rose to meet a cross from the right, which had taken out Craig Gordon, only to head wide of the open goal. Then a long high ball beat the leap of John Souttar to send Griffiths through with only Hamilton to beat, his cute left-foot lob doing just that before drifting, agonisingly, inches wide of the post.
Ten minutes before the interval came the major talking point of the match, Jamie Walker spun then fell to the ground at the edge of the box, Kieran Tierney in close proximity but having made no contact. To the horror of the Celtic players and support behind that goal, referee John Beaton pointed to the spot. A calamitous decision. Nevertheless, Walker picked himself up and calmly slotted the ball home, with Gordon choosing the wrong corner. The postscript to this incident is that Walker was given a two-match ban for simulation, however, as in all of these cases, the goal stood, and the suspension would be of no benefit whatsoever to Celtic. The final chance fell the way of the visitors, Dembele’s shot blocked but Griffiths first to react, his attempt beating the keeper before being acrobatically cleared on the line by Igor Rossi, whose timely intervention saw the teams going in level at 1-1 at the break.
With an hour on the clock, Rodgers made a game-changing substitution, Sinclair replacing Armstrong, a second change following within ten minutes, Tom Rogic coming on for O’Connell as Celtic moved to a back three. With 10 minutes to play, Hearts were enjoying decent possession and had forced a corner. Sixty seconds later, it was 2-1 Celts, a lightning break from defence owing much to the pace and control of Griffiths, leaving two home defenders for dead down the left flank before pitching a wonderful low cross into the box. Sinclair had burst a gut to match the striker’s run through the centre, timing his own entry into the box to perfection to meet the ball first-time with his left-foot to slide it past Hamilton for the match-winning goal.
As dream debuts and impacts go this was right up there, the Hoops fans packed behind the goal joyfully engulfing their new hero. A Celtic Star was born at Tynecastle that day, as the march towards the six began with a win.
Extract from Invincible by Matt Corr, published by The Celtic Star in May 2020 and available from The Celtic Star bookstore, Celtic stores and The Celtic Store website and also on Amazon.