Celtic have lashed 13 goals in their last three domestic matches and are the Scottish Premiership’s top scorers.
Nonetheless, some observers feel they need a new striker. Hearts can only envy such supposed troubles as they head to Glasgow’s east end this afternoon.
For Brad McKay, one of his toughest ever opponents will still be on the prowl in green and white today. Anthony Stokes has just six goals from 28 appearances this season, which is low by his standards. However, he remains the most recognised forward at Celtic Park following Gary Hooper’s defection to Norwich City.
McKay is wary. He marked Stokes earlier in the season when Celtic won 3-1 in the league at Tynecastle and recalls a player difficult to track because of his intelligent movement; not to mention the fact Stokes can be lethal with any scoring chance.
“There have been a few tough individual opponents this season but Anthony Stokes is up there and Kris Boyd was a real handful,” said the defender. “When Celtic beat us 3-1 at Tynecastle, Stokes’ movement was terrific and he was tricky to handle.
“Celtic are scoring goals all over the pitch even if they do not have an out-and-out striker. Kris Commons has scored a few goals but it puts everything into perspective when they are banging them in and the Celtic fans are still asking for more.
“They have beaten us 7-0 [in the Scottish Cup] and Motherwell 5-0 recently yet their supporters still demand a lot. The Hearts fans also demand a lot too and we hear them if we fail to make them happy. We are here to make the supporters happy.” McKay is unsure how many Hearts fans will make the journey to Parkhead given the team’s lowly league status and the previous result between the clubs. “It’s a difficult one after losing 7-0 to Celtic in the last game. I’m not sure how many fans will turn out to see what happens,” he continued.
“At Tynecastle we tried to go for it a wee bit and with the way Celtic played, it was the wrong gameplan. They exploited the spaces between us and punished us, so we have a different gameplan for this match.
“Celtic haven’t done as well at home this season as in previous years and the fans can get frustrated. It’s difficult when fans get on your back as the home team but hopefully that’s what we can do. We will do what we were doing at the start of the season. We were a difficult team to break down and we didn’t lose many goals.
“We were fighting and we were hungry. We were an arrogant young side. We still are but we just lost a bit of faith and belief. Faith is belief – and you have to believe. It’s a major challenge for us because results haven’t been great and the fans are rightly worried. But there is pride at stake and we need to get back to the way we were playing at the start of the season. We need to get that belief back.”
McKay played the second half of the 7-0 cup defeat by Celtic and admitted the visitors that day were simply on a different planet. “I was sitting on the bench for the first half of the 7-0 defeat puffing my cheeks, wondering what was going on. Celtic played some wonderful stuff. We weren’t particularly bad, but they were unbelievable. They are probably the best team I’ve faced.
“I played Liverpool in pre-season and Dinamo Bucharest were good too, but Celtic were something else. The England Under-21 side were good as well, they were maybe the best as they were unbelievable.
“I’ve been involved in some results that haven’t been great, but you need to have faith. It’s a learning curve for all of us right now. We have to believe that we can stay in this league.”
The 20-year-old is expected to return to Hearts’ starting line-up today after being left on the substitutes’ bench for a number of weeks. “At the start of the season I was playing well. The team was arrogant and hard to break down. I dipped in form a bit and in football you get papped out the team when that happens. It’s difficult when you are working hard and not getting the rewards. That’s when you need to show character.”