ALL THE REACTION AND ANALYSIS FROM TYNECASTLE
Scottish champions make no mistake in capital as Parkhead side extend lead at top
Hearts 0 Celtic 2
THAT there is a huge gulf between Celtic and Hearts given the financial advantages the former enjoys is self-evident. But there shouldn’t be 10 teams between them in the Premiership table, and the gulf in quality should not be the chasm it so clearly was here at Tynecastle.
Historically, a visit to Hearts is one that, if not to be dreaded, is a challenge worthy of the respect of any domestic opponent. All the admirable effort expended by their players last night though could not mask the inescapable fact that this Hearts team, and squad, are simply not good enough.
New Hearts manager Daniel Stendel will know this, and will hope to rectify that situation in January. Judging by his reaction to some of the fare dished out by his players here, a few of them will be lucky to still be around come February.
First-half goals from Ryan Christie and Olivier Ntcham sucked much of the life out of Tynecastle and brought Celtic through a rocky opening to eventually cruise to another three points. They move five points clear at the top as they seek the eight-point cushion Neil Lennon has targeted by the winter break.
Stendel is still getting a feel
– or rather, a rude awakening – of what he has at his disposal, and there were five changes to his line-up from the side that went down so desperately to St Johnstone here at the weekend as a result. Joel Pereira came back in between the sticks, and there was an interesting tweak with the deployment of Michael Smith in midfield.
Christie recovered from a knock to take Tom Rogic’s place in the Celtic team that beat Hibs on Sunday, while Jonny Hayes shook off his shoulder problem to come in for Bolingoli at left-back as Lennon reverted to his preferred back four.
It was a crisp night in the capital, and the pitch looked heavy and even a little bare in places. A second-half deluge didn’t help either. It was never likely to be a night of football for purists in any case, and so it proved in a frantic opening as both teams struggled to find a team-mate with a pass.
Stendel (inset) must have wondered what he had wandered into, looking a little bemused at what passed as football in these parts. Still, Hearts were pressing effectively, winning a corner from Kristoffer Ajer by pinning him back through sheer weight of numbers, which got a roar of approval from the home support.
Celtic looked a little rattled, and Scott Brown picked up a caution for hacking down young Aaron Hickey in the midfield. Goalmouth action was a little harder to come by, but Oliver Bozanic did glance a header a couple of yards wide to offer Hearts further encouragement.
Celtic just couldn’t get anything going at all in an attacking sense in these early stages, with Hearts doing a decent job of smothering the two full-backs by means fair or sometimes foul when the occasion demanded it.
And then, from almost nowhere, the visitors put together their first meaningful move of the game and stunned Tynecastle by taking the lead. Brown helped the ball on to Callum McGregor in midfield, and he produced a lovely ball over the top for James Forrest to kill and feed inside to Odsonne Edouard. It looked as though Forrest and Christie were going to get in each other’s way as they both latched onto the forward’s return ball, but the hitherto peripheral Christie took charge and produced a pinpoint finish into Pereira’s bottom left-hand corner. Hearts were dealt a further blow as Jamie Brandon was forced off through injury, leaving Sean Clare to fill in at right-back up against Forrest. Smith’s limitations as a midfielder were then exposed as McGregor robbed him as he dallied in possession, playing Edouard in, but his heavy touch let Pereira smother. There was a further let-off seconds later as Forrest was in on goal, but the winger dragged his effort wide of the near post. Hearts were wide open, and when they lost possession again, Celtic exploited the space ruthlessly to finally get their second. Brown sent Forrest scampering away down the left with only Christophe Berra back between him and Edouard. It looked as though the winger had held onto the ball too long, but he hit the byline and pulled back for the arriving Ntcham to brilliantly side-foot home from an awkward height.
Clare tried to inject a bit of life back into the stadium after the break, drifting inside a couple of challenges before firing wide, but Celtic thought they had killed Hearts off moments later. Edouard should have scored as he danced around the area with the ball, electing to shoot only when Hickey had got himself back to block, before McGregor poked home the rebound. He looked across to see no flag from the assistant, but as he turned to celebrate with the Celtic fans, the arm was belatedly raised.
McGregor then swung in a cross from a short corner that Edouard headed off the far post, before Smith barged through at the other end only to be foiled by Fraser Forster.
Edouard had another chance at the back post as he got on the end of Christie’s free-kick, but Pereira blocked first from him and then again from McGregor.
That just about kept the game as a live contest, but the end result was never in doubt from the moment Christie first found the Hearts net.