Sunday, 15 September 2013

Heart of Midlothian 1 Celtic 3

SPFL Saturday 14 September 2013 - Tynecastle Stadium

Hearts had won both their previous SPFL fixtures at Tynecastle this season but the acid test of this young Maroons team was always going to be when League Champions Celtic came to Gorgie. So it proved when Neil Lennon’s side proved too good for an enthusiastic and hard-working Hearts side who nevertheless gave as good as they got in an eventful afternoon at Tynecastle.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon recognised how tough this fixture has traditionally been for his side and, despite the Hoops opening Champions League fixture in Milan next Tuesday, sent out a strong starting eleven. As expected, it was Celtic who had the bulk of the possession in the early stages of the game and Kris Commons had the first real chance but volleyed over from 12 yards when he really should have opened the scoring.

This is not to say Hearts were sitting back and Gary Locke’s side looked dangerous on the counter-attack. The impressive Kevin McHattie, restored to the Hearts team following his suspension from the team that lost in Inverness before the international break, almost caught out Celtic keeper Forster with a close range effort. However, the opening goal came at the other end and in somewhat controversial circumstances.

Hearts Jamie Hamill must have felt an overpowering sense of déjà vu when, for the second game running, he was deemed guilty of handball in the penalty area thereby conceding a penalty kick. In Inverness a fortnight ago, Hamill seemed powerless to prevent the ball cannoning off his head  - which not only resulted in a penalty kick for Caledonian Thistle but also a red card – ultimately rescinded -  for the Hearts man. This time round Stokes’ effort cannoned off the unfortunate Hamill’s arm. Penalty decreed referee Willie Collum although thankfully common sense prevailed and Hamill remained on the pitch. Commons despatched the penalty and the jeers and catcalls that whistled around Tynecastle from a disbelieving home support told its own story. Afterwards, Celtic manager Neil Lennon remarked he had been as surprised as anyone by the decision to award a penalty kick.

Hearts were seen more as an attacking force in the second half and equalised just before the hour mark when Jason Holt struck a low shot from the edge of the penalty area which evaded Forster to level the score. Tynecastle erupted and having defeated both Hibernian and Aberdeen with huge encouragement from a vociferous home support, one sensed Gary Locke’s youngsters could perhaps do it again. However, parity lasted just six minutes when Stokes raced through the Hearts defence to restore the visitors’ lead.

Hearts had appeals for a penalty turned down by referee Collum moments later in an incident that didn’t look dissimilar to the one which gave Celtic their first half lead. The home side’s frustration turned to despair when Celtic wrapped up the three points with four minutes left when new signing Pukki headed home their third goal.

Thus, Hearts unbeaten home record ended but there were many plus points for Gary Locke. The Maroons gave as good as they got for much of the game and although there can be no denying Celtic deserved to win the game, Hearts youngsters can take much encouragement despite having to chase the game after that controversial opening goal.

Hearts: Macdonald; McHattie; Wilson; McGowan; McKay; Hamill; Robinson; Walker; Holt; Paterson; B. King.

Celtic: Forster; Izaguirre; Ambrose; van Dijk; Lustwig; Matthews; Brown; Boerrigter; Ledley; Stokes; Commons.

Referee: Willie Collum

Att: 15,928

Top man: The impressive Kevin McHattie is a player who seems to be much improved this season.



It’s remarkable to think it’s nearly 32 years since the death of one of Scottish football’s greatest managers – Bill Shankly. I recently watched a documentary on television about the man from the Ayrshire mining village of Glenbuck who became a Liverpool legend and will forever be revered in the red half of Merseyside.

It was fascinating to hear how the man who transformed Liverpool from Second Division also-rans to English League champions in the mid-1960s used psychology to inspire his players. Former England international Kevin Keegan spoke about when he joined Liverpool from Scunthorpe United in 1971 and was up against West Ham United and their England World Cup winning stars such as Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore. Shankly didn’t want the young Keegan to feel overawed and had a quiet word with his starlet as the teams prepared in the dressing room shortly before kick off. The wily Scot told Keegan that Moore was now past his best, and suspected the England captain had been out clubbing the night before as he was sure he was limping. Liverpool won 4-1 that afternoon with Keegan getting on the scoresheet. After the game, Shanks applauded Keegan for his performance, adding he had just played against the best defender in the country who was at the top of his game. Not quite how he had described the England star two hours earlier but his pre-match diatribe had the desired effect!

It brought to mind the story former Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby was often fond of regaling. Decades ago there was no internet and no instant communication the way there is today. Busby, another great Scot, told how Shankly telephoned him after a midweek game between Liverpool and Sheffield United. Despite their rivalry, Shankly and Busby were good friends and Shanks, mindful of the fact United were due to play the Yorkshire team in a forthcoming fixture, thought it best he telephoned Busby with some advice.

‘You know, Matt, I was really impressed by Sheffield United tonight’ said Shankly. ‘They are very skilful, they have great strength, pace and spirit. In my view, they are one of the best teams in the country’. Somewhat perplexed by this, Busby assumed Liverpool had lost and his compatriot was getting his excuses in early. ‘So, Bill’ Busby said in that famous drawl, ‘I take it your boys lost tonight then?’ ‘Oh, no’ replied Shanks, ‘we won 5-1…’ And the marker had been laid!

Perhaps the most famous exponent of what is now termed ‘mind games’ is another famous Scot who also brought greatness to Manchester United - Sir Alex Ferguson. He famously ‘got inside the head’ of the aforementioned Kevin Keegan when the perm-haired Englishman was manager of Newcastle United in the mid-1990s and the Geordies were top of the English Premiership table. Ferguson intimated that some teams didn’t try as hard against Newcastle as they did against the Red Devils and this had helped the Magpies establish a decent lead at the top of the table. This infuriated Keegan – as Ferguson had intended – and the effect it had on the mindset of the players helped derail Newcastle’s journey to a first English League championship since Moses was a boy. Once doubt sets in it’s difficult to get rid of it.

This week Celtic head for the San Siro and the might of Milan in the Champions League. Few will give Neil Lennon’s side a chance but the Hoops defied the odds not so long ago by beating Barcelona. Lennon will surely use psychology to try and gain an advantage over his more illustrious opponents. If only Bill Shankly were still around to pop into the Celtic dressing room prior to kick-off…!


Mike Smith

Twitter @Mike1874