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.


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

At­ten­dance: 11,598

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

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