There was a shock on the Cinch Premiership’s opening day as Hearts battled to a 2-1 win in Ange Postecoglou’s first domestic game in charge.
John Souttar headed a last-minute winner to send 5000 Jambos into delirium in the closing stages.
Former-Celt Gary Mackay-Steven had given Hearts the lead after six minutes before a remarkable solo goal from Anthony Ralston levelled the scores.
It’s the first time the Hoops have suffered defeat in their first game in 24 years – adding to an already miserable week after the Champions League exit in Denmark.
There were warning signs early-on that the Jambos were up for a fight – immediately they had Celtic on the back foot and began to force errors amongst the defence.
It wouldn’t be long before Robbie Nielson’s side had the goal to back that up either.
Hoops’ new star centre-back Starfelt was ran ragged more than once by Josh Ginnelly, who’s cut back eventually fell to Gary Mackay-Steven by way of touches from Liam Boyce and Nir Bitton. The tricky wide-man being left with the simple task of tapping in from close range.
The early opener gave Hearts the luxury of sitting back – they allowed the visitors a mighty 75% of the ball in the first-half whilst still managing to create chances on the counter. Celtic on the other hand had shots of their own but struggled to carve out much in the way of clear-cut opportunities.
If composure in the final third was something missing in the first 45 however – an unlikely source would step up to the plate for an equaliser early in the second.
Playing almost as a strike partner to Edouard, right-back Anthony Ralston took the ball from the Frenchman 30 yards from goal, before quite sensationally driving by Souttar towards the box and firing into the bottom corner. Just like that Postecoglou had his first Premiership goal and his were clearly growing in confidence as a result.
Whilst the home side still sat deep, Celtic began to play around them and cause problems. Liel Abada had a well-taken finish marginally called offside which when watched back certainly raised debate.
Hearts though were not to be ruled out. John Souttar’s well-directed header may have been kept out by Celtic stopper Scott Bain, but what his effort might have done was inspire the Jambos that the game could still be won, they began venturing forward more often with some dangerous crosses perhaps putting a few Celtic hearts in mouths.
At that point Celtic’s resurgence began to look a thing of the past, the Jambos grew and grew into the game towards the closing stages and became real contenders to find a winner.
Step up John Souttar – a player who’s spent months upon months on the sidelines with two separate achilles injuries – to head home a deep-free kick and give his side the lead in the closing stages.
Hearts had taken the lead with just minutes left on the clock – yet somehow still there was time for more drama!
Former Celtic goalkeeper Gordon kept out what looked a certain goal from James Forrest, before diving to save a bottom-corner bound header from Ryan Christie from the following corner. Tynecastle erupted in the immediate aftermath to both and was even noisier when the referee blew for full-time seconds later.
Its a less than ideal start Scottish Premiership life for new Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou, but for Hearts the return could really not have gone much sweeter. Here are three things we learned from the match!
Souttar is an inspiration
Any neutral who kept up with the story of John Souttar over the last couple of years would have no doubt cheered the 24-year-old’s header as it bobbled by Scott Bain and into the Celtic net.
The two recent achilles injuries added to what has become a pretty torturous injury history for the defender – he’s spent the majority of past seasons on the sidelines with former manager Craig Levein telling the BBC midweek that it was a huge slice of luck the defender was back playing at all.
To bounce back from the physical, and no doubt mental, setbacks takes such strength and determination. John Souttar deserves immense credit for his comeback and will no doubt have the well-wishes of many in Scottish football. When fully fit Souttar is a top-quality central defender in the Scottish Premiership, and could even be an asset to the national side in the near future.
Celtic stars fail to shine, again…
One of the Celtic support’s main complaints from the defeat in Denmark was the lack of impact that their usual key players had on the game. It’s fair to say tonight’s showing would have done little to settle any concerns…
James Forrest has been a regular figure of frustration, one usually known for his pace and direct running but tonight only managed one take-on all game long. Anonymous for large spells but not much different from David Turnbull who looked off his usual form in the middle of the park. Odsonne Edouard set-up the equaliser for Tony Ralston – but still looks a level below the player everyone in Scottish football knows he can be.
Football though is a game of tight margins, perhaps had Forrest’s effort in the closing stages found the net he’d be getting heaps of praise, but for now him and his other high profile team mates impact will be called underwhelming at best.
Ironically, Celtic could use a Craig Gordon…
Celtic’s decision not to renew Craig Gordon’s contract at the end of 2019/20 wasn’t much of a surprise at the time. The national team stopper had fallen behind Fraser Forster and Scott Bain in the pecking order and looked to be well out of favour to say the least.
That being said, his performance at Tynecastle tonight conveyed exactly what his form in Gorgie has demonstrated since his arrival last year, that his shot-stopping is still levels above the bar set by the goalkeepers currently at Parkhead.
Despite being 38 years old the big keeper has developed a catalogue of top level saves over the past year, and looks to be showing no signs of slowing down just yet, all the while Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain have continued to look sub-par as his replacements.
The two saves Gordon pulled off in added time were nothing short of match defining and ultimately earned a priceless three points for his side – Celtic might well be wishing their goalkeepers were doing the same…
Featured image credit: Hearts players – Sky Sports, club badges – Wikipedia, Premiership logo – SPFL