Celtic hang on for three points at hostile Tynecastle

First half goals from Reo Hatate and Georgios Giakoumakis were enough to see Celtic leave Tynecastle with what could turn out to be a crucial victory. Jamie McIntosh reports. 

There was a big game atmosphere inside Tynecastle on Wednesday night. (Photo Credit – Jamie McIntosh)

Hearts vs Celtic at Tynecastle. Midweek and under the floodlights is always a special atmosphere, normally culminating in a very entertaining match, and this game was no different.

This one had a particular importance considering Hearts’ strong home form this season and Celtic’s need to avoid losing further ground on Rangers in the title race. 

It was two years to the day since Liam Boyce marked his Jambos debut with a dramatic winner over Rangers, and Ellis Simms was hoping for a similar impact off the bench, having signed on loan from Everton earlier in the day. 

As for Celtic, they were missing a number of players through injury and international commitments but had a debutant of their own in midfielder Matt O’Reilly. 

The roof almost came off Tynecastle after just thirty seconds when Reo Hatate gave the ball straight to Boyce, finding Barrie McKay, but the former Rangers man curled an effort just over the bar. 

Up the other end, another mistake almost led to the opening goal. This time Josh Ginnelly wanted too much time on the ball, his pocket was picked and O’Riley’s effort was blocked by John Souttar.

An emotional moment was observed on the 13th minute. Play was stopped to remember young Hearts fan Devin, Gordon who sadly took his own life last week, aged just 13. 

Both sides warmed up in United to Prevent Suicide tops, to raise awareness of suicide and mental health, encouraging people to talk to save lives. 

After a nervy opening ten minutes, Celtic were growing into the game and were spraying the ball around nicely. At the heart of this was Jota, the Portuguese winger giving Michael Smith a horrible time on the left. Twice he came close to opening the scoring, but was denied by a combination of Craig Gordon and the side-netting. 

Hearts were forced into an early sub when Smith was forced off, with Nathaniel Atkinson replacing him for his home debut. 

The home side were really struggling to get out their half and the visitors took a deserved lead after 26 minutes. Atkinson was punished for giving the ball away to Hatate, whose searing effort from distance bulleted directly through Gordon to silence the majority of Tynecastle. 

Celtic’s intense pressing was too much for Hearts, and at the half hour mark, the Jambos were struggling to just stay in the game. 

Staying in the game felt an even harder prospect when, just like during Rangers’ visit to Tynecastle earlier in the season, Hearts found themselves two down early on. Georgios Giakoumakis turned in O’Riley’s cross with a sublime flick to put the Hoops on easy street, however replays showed the Greek was in an offside position in doing so. 

The hosts made three changes within ten minutes of the restart in the hope of getting themselves back into the game. Josh Ginnelly was replaced by debutant Simms, and there was a welcome return to action for Beni Baningime, for the booked Cammy Devlin, while Alex Cochrane made way for Gary Mackay-Steven. 

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou took off Jota on the hour mark, perhaps thinking the game was over. Two minutes later, he might’ve wished he’d kept his tricky winger on the field. 

Hearts’ very own creator McKay had been non-existent in the game so far, but he managed to find Liam Boyce in the penalty box. The striker looked offside, but he didn’t concern himself with that and slid the ball through Joe Hart’s legs. Suddenly, Tynecastle had found its voice again. 

The atmosphere was reaching boiling point and the famous stands erupted again when first Nir Bitton and then O’Riley handled the ball, giving John Beaton ample reason to point to the spot. Boyce sent Joe Hart the wrong way, but unfortunately for the Northern Irishman, his effort came back off the post, as Celtic survived a massive scare. 

Craig Halkett was forced off after 79 minutes and the reaction on the defender’s face implied he could have picked up a nasty injury, before being replaced by Andy Halliday.

The Jambos huffed and puffed in the final ten minutes, plus the additional six in stoppage time, but failed to find an equaliser. The result moves Celtic twelve points clear of Hearts, while the Hoops remain four points behind leaders Rangers. 

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