Heart of Midlothian 1 Celtic 3 (6th May 2018)
The second game of my mini trip to Scotland saw me take the train to Scotland’s capital for a lunchtime game the following day. Edinburgh might be much more touristy than Glasgow, but it’s also a much nicer city, and a far better place to spend and evening (and a morning).
I’d enjoyed my last trip to Edinburgh, where I’d been on the other side of town, watching Hibernian. I’d really liked Easter Road, and I was hoping for much of the same at Hearts.
I’d actually seen Tynecastle before, but only the outside. When I went for a quick look previously it still had its attractive old-fashioned main stand, somewhat blighted by an ugly 60s/70s extension at the rear. The old stand was sadly gone now (the extension, not so sadly), replaced with a large modern stand, whose glass facade was adorned with the name “Tynecastle” and the club badge, just large enough to stop it just looking like a modern office block.
Less impressively, Hearts seemed to have forgotten to add a club shop into this new stand, and a meagre selection of merchandise was instead being sold in a small room on the ground floor, akin to the sort of arrangement you see at non-league teams expecting 200 fans, not SPL ones expecting 20,000.
Having walked to Tynecastle from the city centre, making an unscheduled stop to climb the 288 steps of the Scott Monument, I didn’t really have time for a leisurely beer in the Tynecastle Arms, so I went in, settling for a coke and a Scotch pie instead.
When I first saw plans for the new main stand, I did worry that it would be a bit “samey”, with Tynecastle just having four one-tier stands. Somehow though, it works, and doesn’t look the dull “flatpack” ground I’d feared. Maybe part of that is due to the ground being decked out in a rich maroon. It was also a gloriously sunny day, which always helps.
Tynecastle isn’t a ground that fills up early, but when it does, it fills with fans very proud to show their colours – none of the deriding of “shirters” and “scarfers” so sadly common in English stadiums – and while there wasn’t a great deal of singing going on, there was a good healthy buzz of anticipation around the place. It didn’t have that end of season formality by any means.
Celtic would no doubt have thought then when they visited Tynecastle in December, that getting at least a point would be a formality too, as they were unbeaten in 69 games at the time. Hearts shocked everyone though, by not only winning, but by hammering Celtic 4-0.
While a repeat of that score was never likely, Hearts did at least start the game looking like a team determined to get another win, playing with an intensity not matched by a Celtic side, already champions, with a hint of being mentally at the beach about them.
Hearts had already had one goal disallowed for some vague infringement, before Kyle Lafferty started and finished a fine attacking move, being put through on the right and hitting a volley that gave the Celtic keeper no chance. Celebrating for a few seconds directly in front of the Celtic fans possibly wasn’t the wisest thing to do, but he quickly moved on to the corner of the main stand, where, surprisingly, Hearts’ most vocal fans seemed to be.
The Hearts fans were in full voice, and with a confidence that matched that of their team, but it was to be shattered just few short minutes later. A Celtic free kick was floated in deep beyond the back post, where Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata hit a perfect header back across the keeper. There was nothing the keeper, or anyone else could do, but watch it arc and drop softly inside the far post for the equaliser.
It was an obvious blow to Hearts confidence, and they never regained their confident swagger of the opening 20 minutes after that. Indeed, Celtic missed two very good chances to go ahead by half time, and from thinking about a win, Hearts went in probably relieved not to be behind.
The relief didn’t last long. Six minute into the second half, a deep cross picked out Moussa Dembélé inside the left side of the Hearts penalty box. With no defender near him, he took one touch to control the ball, and a second to effortlessly pass it across the keeper into the net. He took it with the confidence and nonchalance of a man dropping a crisp packet into a bin, as if the thought of not scoring in that situation hadn’t crossed his mind, and ran across to the Celtic fans to celebrate.
If the first Celtic goal knocked Hearts’ confidence, this one destroyed it. For all of their effort, it was like they were being toyed with now. Frustration got the better of players and fans, and while there is always the sense of “big club bias” from referees towards the likes of Celtic, most of the decisions that angered many were probably justified.
With Hearts looking mentally shot, Celtic played out the rest of the game as if they knew 2-1 was enough, not even bothering to time-waste or indulge in any game killing tactics. It kept the game interesting though, with the Hearts fans still having that lingering hope, if not that expectation.
That hope was snuffed out right at the death though. The board indicating five minutes of added time gave the crowd a second wind, but the roars of encouragement couldn’t do enough. In the fourth of those five minutes a Celtic break down the right saw the ball cut back to Scott Sinclair, on the edge of the six-yard box. With the keeper out of the play, and just a couple of defenders on the line, he had virtually the whole goal to aim at. He hit the ball hard and low, but close enough to one of the defenders to let him get a foot to the ball. It wasn’t enough though, and did no more than deflect it to a different part of the net. For Hearts, it was just that kind of afternoon.
It was the cue for most of those decked out in Maroon to head for the exits, disappointed, but knowing it just wasn’t their day. A few minutes later, with the game over, the Celtic fans went to acclaim their noisy supporters. “Champions again, champions again” the fans sang. Not only had it been their day, but their year, and nigh on their decade too.