FIVE months into the season, Allan Moore remains the only Scottish manager to win at Celtic Park. He is no longer a manager having lost his job at Morton last month, but the statistic still stands.
Moore masterminded a 1-0 League Cup win at Parkhead in September and remembers the rarity of the achievement as his former club, Hearts, prepare to visit Glasgow. Gary Locke needs no reminding that his last encounter with Celtic ended in a 7-0 Scottish Cup mauling at Tynecastle. Moore’s advice is to assemble a rigid defence and pack the midfield. Hold Celtic until half-time and they can become unsettled and agitated, both on the pitch and in the technical area. However, perhaps the key to that Morton win – courtesy of Dougie Imrie’s extra-time penalty – lay in a clever piece of pre-match preparation by Moore.
“We took the players up to Celtic Park early that night and walked them round it while it was empty, just to give them a look at it,” he explained. “A lot of players in my team hadn’t played there because we had some foreigners and some others who had come up from England. They weren’t used to that big stadium. We just took them out and let them walk about in it when it was nice and quiet.”
That chance to settle into the surroundings proved vital as Morton – second bottom of the Championship at the time – executed their first win at Celtic Park in over 40 years. Hearts could benefit from using Moore’s initiative given many of their squad have never sampled the Parkhead cauldron. “There were only about 18,000 people in the crowd on the night but we had a good Morton support [around 2500] and they gave us good backing. The arena helped us as well. When Hearts go there, I expect there will be a far bigger crowd than we had to deal with.
“If you do well you can silence the crowd, though. I think the crowd appreciated we defended quite resolutely against them. Celtic actually had 27 corners in the game and didn’t manage to score. That shows you need a bit of luck to beat them. We gave them a lot of the play in their half of the pitch and even five to ten yards into our half. I think they were a wee bit pedestrian, thinking a goal would come. The longer it went at 0-0, the more desperate they got. When it went into extra time, they ended up sending big [defender Virgil] Van Dijk up to centre-forward. He hit the post with the last kick of the game, and Charlie Mulgrew had hit the post as well.”
Moore makes no apology for employing defensive tactics against Celtic and implores Locke to do likewise. “We went there with no illusions. We went there to get everybody behind the ball,” he said. “We went with a 4-2-3-1 formation. The two boys sitting in front of the back four had good games, as did our goalkeeper and our back four. We defended our 18-yard box really well and that’s what you have to do against Celtic. They can have the ball but when they get near your box and they’re slinging crosses in, you need to make sure your defenders get a head on the ball. Our two centre-backs won everything that night.
“When we had to attack teams in our league, they exploited us. We knew we could get everybody behind the ball against Celtic and hope for a chance up the other end if we could keep a clean sheet. We didn’t need to go all-out attack. We had one striker up front and packed the midfield. We defended better than we had all season, which was vital. Hearts need to have it in their mind that, for 90 minutes, they will have to get behind the ball and hopefully get a wee break going forward.
“We went there with a game plan to sit in and frustrate them, to slow the game down at every opportunity. Celtic slowed it down themselves actually. Neil Lennon just kept saying: ‘Keep going. We’ll get one. We’ll get one.’ They didn’t. It’s hard to get a goal when the other team has everybody behind the ball.
“The longer the game went on, the more frustrated the fans became and the more frustrated Celtic’s coaching staff became. I’ve been there myself against teams you’re expected to beat. You start getting tense on the bench and that transfers on to the pitch.
“When it gets to half-time and it’s goalless, the doubts start creeping in. Hearts have to keep things nice and tight for as long as they can and their young boys will take confidence from that.”
Asked if he still takes satisfaction from Morton’s victory, Moore is philosophical. “It’s not really a feather in my cap because I’m not in a job any more,” he said. “The players rose their game that night but I don’t know what happened to them in the league games. They turned up in our harder games against the likes of Hamilton but not in the other games. Hearts will need to raise their game on Saturday because they have a lot of young boys. Celtic aren’t firing on all cylinders right now, so if Hearts can hold them in the first half they will have a chance. Getting to half-time gave our boys a lift because they were ecstatic that the score was still 0-0. Celtic didn’t get the ball to their strikers quickly that night. In fact, they were a bit lethargic. They passed the ball about which gave us time to get behind it. They might go with a different tempo because it’s Hearts and it’s a league game.
“The fact Celtic hammered Hearts at Tynecastle doesn’t help, either. That was a bit of a trouncing. Celtic scored early that day and, when that happens, they take confidence and push on. Some of the Hearts boys might be going to Glasgow with a bit of fear after what happened last time but they can turn that fear into a positive. You’ve really got to get in Celtic’s faces.”