PETER ENCKELMAN was angry at himself for conceding what he termed a “soft” goal at Celtic Park yesterday, which ultimately proved the difference between Hearts and the SPL champions.
The Finnish goalkeeper made his Hearts debut by replacing Jamie MacDonald, who was stretchered off early in the first half, but allowed Georgios Samaras’ 34th minute shot through his legs to take Celtic to the top of the league.
MacDonald collided with Charlie Mulgrew and was knocked out cold attempting to collect an Emilio Izaguirre cross on nine minutes. After fully five minutes of treatment, he came round and was carried off to be replaced by 35-year-old Enckelman. The veteran could not prevent Samaras converting Kris Commons’ through ball and admitted he was annoyed that the ball had squirmed through into the net.
“I was disappointed with the goal,” said Enckelman, who joined Hearts in August as a free agent after leaving St Johnstone. “I thought it was a bit soft from my point of view. I tried to read him (Samaras) and I thought he was going to shoot across me. I felt if I stood up and he hit it with pace then anything could happen. I thought if I stood up I’d have a better chance of saving it. I was a bit cross with myself there, I’ll be honest.”
By the time Enckelman reached the away dressing-room at half-time, MacDonald was sitting upright and on the way to recovery. “I was asking the fourth official if he knew anything. He said it might be his neck or a knock on his head, he wasn’t sure. When I walked in at half-time he was sitting up and he was okay. That was a relief because you never want to see anyone get hurt, especially a team-mate. He was a bit pale but thankfully okay.
“When he went down it was literally one of them moments where I hoped he was okay but the first thing I did was stood up and started jogging. I think he was a bit groggy, but nothing major. I wouldn’t compare being a goalie with being an outfielder but you know it can happen where you will be called upon. The toughest thing is to get your game head on and make sure you’re up to speed.”
Hearts were not distracted by MacDonald’s enforced departure. Celtic dominated possession in the first half but the visitors fashioned the clearest opening when Andy Driver dispossessed defender Kelvin Wilson who was trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick and rolled it into Callum Paterson’s path across the penalty box. The teenager slid in but sent his finish wide with the goal gaping. Mulgrew then departed looking dazed having tried to soldier on after his clash with MacDonald.
Samaras’ goal changed the complexion of the match. The Greek had already hit a post and his intelligent movement was a constant problem for Hearts. Following their midweek Champions League exertions against Spartak Moscow, Celtic were happy sitting on a slender advantage and the second half became something of a disappointment.
There was a flurry of late pressure from Hearts which culminated in a shot which Driver dragged wide of goal. In the end it was another story of frustration for the visitors, who have now gone more than five years without a league victory in Glasgow’s east end.
“We could’ve taken something from the game,” lamented Enckelman. “I’ve taken points here before with other clubs but the game is never done at 1-0. We were still in the game and I didn’t think we gave a bad account of ourselves. I thought we deserved something for our effort.
“It’s not been frustrating for me sitting on the substitutes’ bench. I’ve been in football long enough to know you’ve got to earn your place. Jamie’s been doing well so there was no reason for the manager to do anything. Coming here when the season had already started, I was under no illusions. I couldn’t keep a clean sheet; I enjoyed getting a game, though.”
Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, praised his players for winning despite clearly feeling fatigued after their European trip. The most impressive home player was Commons, who is surprisingly not part of Craig Levein’s Scotland squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Belgium.
“I’m so delighted,” said Lennon. “The players have put in a massive effort this week and you could see the fatigue was starting kick in a little bit towards the end. We had to use the substitute early for Charlie and that wasn’t the way we wanted things to go but I can’t speak highly enough of the players. I thought it was a brilliant effort. I’m not saying we were at our best by any means but we created a lot of chances and could have put Hearts away earlier than we did.
“Champions League games, with the travelling, are hugely demanding. We used a lot of energy in the game on Tuesday in Moscow, and maybe in hindsight I might have changed the team a little bit more but I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep the momentum going and, to be fair, the majority of players played well. There was just that bit of tiredness starting to seep in towards the end and I totally understand that.”