Brown faces scan after missing Celtic’s march into semi-final
Goal, booking, assist, substitution: it’s all in a dramatic night’s work for Griffiths at Tynecastle
RONNY DEILA, the Celtic manager, faces an anxious wait to discover whether his captain Scott Brown will be fit to play any part in the club’s crucial meetings with Aberdeen and Molde in the next seven days after the 30 year-old injured his knee in the warm-up prior to last night’s League Cup quarter-final victory against Hearts.
While the Parkhead side booked their place in the last four courtesy of goals from Leigh Griffiths and Tom Rogic, which meant a late Hearts strike from substitute Arnaud Djoum was merely a consolation, the only blot on the evening was the pre-game, which saw Brown limp off with a knee problem and Gary Mackay-Steven withdrawn from his place on the bench due to a groin issue. Brown will undergo an MRI scan on the joint today with Deila dreading the news that the captain will be unable to play his usual part on Saturday and Thursday in what are key matches in the club’s Ladbrokes Premiership and Europa League campaigns respectively.
“Scott felt something in his knee during the warm-up,” said Deila. “We will have to scan it tomorrow and then we can say what it is. I don’t think it is serious – I hope it isn’t. But, again, it is a knee and we have to wait for the scan. It makes the performance even better that we played that way after losing our captain. But we had an Israeli interna- tional and a Norwegian international there, so we have good players coming into that position. Those two played very well. Gary Mackay-Steven was feeling stiffness in his groin. He was going to be a sub, so we didn’t take any chances. But he will be ready very quickly.”
Deila reserved special praise for his two goalscorers on the night, Griffiths – who once again proved the tormentor of Hearts as he moved onto 14 for the season – and substitute Tom Rogic, who added energy to the Celtic midfield late on. Certainly Celtic’s prolific striker revelled in shutting up the Hearts fans who had given him abuse all night due to his past Hibs connections with his goal. Afterwards Griffiths said the booking which he received for celebrating in front of both the home and away fans was worth the trouble.
“I get abuse everywhere I go – here you always get stick as an ex-Hibee but the only way to shut them up is to score and set up a goal,” he said. “For the second goal I knew I was coming off soon after. I took a good touch as the ball came out the sky and I wanted to get to the byline as quickly as possible. It was a great flick – Tom came on in the second half and did really well and deserved his goal.
“I did it [the celebration] when I scored my first Celtic goal here,” he added. “If I go to the Celtic fans then I’m going to get booked. If I head to the Hearts fans I’m going to get booked! So if you give me the option then there’s only one place I’m going! The yellow was a bit harsh, but if you give me a goal like that and a yellow card then I’ll take it all day long.”
Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager, also praised his side and said that on another day Nir Bitton might have received a second yellow card, rather being given the benefit of the doubt by match official John Beaton for a couple of blatant fouls when he had already been cautioned. “Possibly there were a couple of cards early doors that were similar incidents but the referee was obviously wanting to keep players on the park,” said Neilson.
HEARTS 1 CELTIC 2
AS if the world didn’t know by now, this Celtic team are up for a scrap. The battling qualities of Ronny Deila’s side are becoming the stuff of legend and one day after Emilio Izaguirre required stitches after a training ground altercation with Nadir Ciftci they demonstrated that they are not prepared to give up their hold on the League Cup without a fight.
Hearts pushed them a fair distance during this cagey quarter-final tie, but goals in the last 20 minutes from Leigh Griffiths and Tom Rogic meant it was the holders who landed the knockout blow. They join St Johnstone and Ross County in the last four, with Hibs and Dundee United playing off to join them next week.
Hearts at Tynecastle usually goes down as one of Celtic’s most uncomfortable assignments, and not just because of shocking memories of the night a crazed home fan ran on up the touchline to have a go at Neil Lennon. While the usual bile flowed in the stands, on the field the Parkhead side have now gone six visits here since their last defeat, racking up a 26-1 aggregate scoreline in the process. Deila oversaw a 4-0 win here last November in the Scottish Cup and that Griffiths should continue as the Tynecastle club’s tormentor-in-chief hardly goes down as a surprise.
This match was anybody’s until Stefan Johansen beat Morgaro Gomis to a loose ball, and Griffiths burst smartly between two men to roll in a sweet finish with his left foot. He promptly ran round behind the goal, administering a thumbs-up to the home support then crossing back over to do likewise with his own fans, earning a booking in the process. He wasn’t finished there, either, turning provider for the goal which gave Celtic breathing space, rolling the ball across goal for substitute Tom Rogic to flick in cleverly. The cushion meant that Arnaud Djoum’s late header from a Jamie Walker corner was only a consolation.
While the Celtic drama refused to become a crisis, there were a few fraught moments. Izaguirre, with freshly stitched war wounds, was recalled to the starting line-up in place of Kieran Tierney, but it wasn’t the only bit of injury intrigue about. To lose one player to injury in the warm-up is bad luck; to lose two had the potential to be a disaster.
That was the fate which befell Ronny Deila last night, when his skipper complained of what appeared to be a knee strain and had to be removed from the team lines and Gary Mackay-Steven, feeling tightness in his groin, was unable to take his place on the bench. Brown’s place went to James Forrest, presumably necessitating Commons to switch to his favoured role off the front, while Tyler Blackett took Mackay-Steven’s place on the bench. Whichever way you cut it, it wasn’t exactly great timing, considering the meetings with Aberdeen on Saturday and Molde next Thursday to come.
Robbie Neilson, whose side sit third in the table, six points behind Celtic, made a couple of changes from the side which took care of Ross County in the league, with Arnaud Djoum and Jamie Walker dropping out. The game plan seemed simple enough; play as narrow as possible, relying on your giant back four to win every cross which comes into your box, and hope twin strikers Juanma and Osman Sow would get some change out of Celtic’s centre halves from long balls.
Jozo Simunovic, at £5.5m f rom Dinamo Zagreb, was signed as the man to restore solidity to Celtic’s back line, and at home against Dundee United he had looked a snip at that money. He is only 21 though, in a foreign country and playing a totally alien style of football. Hearts’ front two succeeded in throwing him out of his comfort zone.
These two teams were playing for a place in the last four but in truth both sides struggled to create clear-cut chances. An early Forrest shot might have been goalbound had it not struck Griffiths as he lurked in an offside position. Sow was too strong for Simunovic as he spun away from him in a central position but could only tug a shot wide. The impressive Stuart Armstrong saw a shot deflected wide, then couldn’t control a Forrest cross as it whizzed across the six-yard box.
The question was who would blink first but neither manager seemed inclined to change too much too soon. Commons blazed a right-foot shot wide from a decent position, then with Jamie Walker adding impetus to Hearts from the bench, Nir Bitton got the benefit of the doubt from referee John Beaton, with no second yellow forthcoming after a couple of fairly blatant fouls whilst on a booking.
Hearts had the ball in the net, Sow tucking in after Callum Paterson had knocked a Jordan McGhee free-kick into his path, but Celtic saw the offside flag and breathed again. Momentarily on the ropes, Deila’s Celtic regathered themselves and inflicted a world of pain on Hearts. If they can battle their way beyond Aberdeen and Molde in the next seven days, the spoils of victory may soon be theirs.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Alexander; Paterson, Augustyn, Rossi, McGhee; Buaben (Djoum 81), Gomis; King (Walker 53), Sow, Nicholson; Juanma (Reilly 87). Subs not used: Hamilton, Walker, Swanson, Smith, Zanatta
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Simunovic, Izaguirre; Bitton, Johansen; Forrest (Rogic 59), Commons, Armstrong; Griffiths (Ciftci 82). Subs not used: Bailly, Ambrose, McGregor, Tierney
Booked: Hearts: Buaben 18, McGhee 34, Juanma 77. Celtic: Bitton 37, Griffiths 73 Referee: J Beaton
Hearts: Djoum 90. Celtic: Griffiths 71, Rogic 82
TAKE THAT: Leigh Griffiths celebrates in front of the Hearts fans after putting Celtic in front last night. Picture: SNS
CHASE IS ON: Jozo Simunovic (left) battles with Osman Sow