PENALTIES in Glasgow are even rarer than wages for Hearts players. When they do come round, converting them is vital.
Victor Wanyama being penalised for handling after scoring the game’s only goal was a stroke of good fortune for the visitors, for the decision was hardly clear-cut for referee Calum Murray. Had Eggert Jonsson scored from the spot, a vital point would have been secured in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Jonsson’s miss proved costly but that should not detract from a creditable Hearts display. The Tynecastle first-team squad are still awaiting full payment of November’s wages – December’s are due this Friday – yet they produced a resilient performance at Celtic Park which flew in the face of adversity.
They resisted Celtic’s advances until 72 minutes when Wanyama’s 20-yard strike broke the deadlock. Hearts then pressed forward and, when the Kenyan challenged Ryan Stevenson in the air, Murray ruled handball. It was Hearts’ first penalty in Glasgow in over two years since Michael Stewart scored in a 1-0 League Cup quarter-final win over Celtic in October 2009.
When your luck is out, it is out, as the saying goes. Jonsson would certainly concur with that notion right now. Fraser Forster, the Celtic goalkeeper, threw himself to the left to palm the Icelander’s kick to safety and preserve a sixth consecutive SPL victory for his club. It was difficult for the Hearts players to take, particularly in light of the spirit they showed throughout the afternoon.
“The team was tactically perfect, we didn’t leave any space for Celtic to create chances,” said Paulo Sergio, the Tynecastle manager. “We were well organised and I thought Celtic were nervous. We couldn’t do anything about the goal we lost. I can’t blame anyone, it was a great goal. I just want to say I’m very proud of the boys and of the way they played. I saw lot of positives. What I ask of the players is they have that focus and concentration in every game. I believe if we do this, then we can get the three points next week.”
Matching Hearts’ performance was the support from their travelling fans. “We have to take the good things and keep going. We played a good game, and the supporters can be proud,” Sergio told the club’s website. “I also beg them to stay behind us and keep supporting the team. I hope everybody comes to Tynecastle next week because it’s at times like this that we need their support and their help.”
The pocket of Hearts followers were delighted with the 0-0 half-time scoreline. Celtic had monopolised possession and Marian Kello saved Anthony Stokes’ drive from distance, but there were hints of danger posed by the Edinburgh side. Scott Robinson, enjoying a rare start, shot over from distance and David Templeton passed when he should have shot following a direct run at the Celtic defence in the final minute of the opening period.
Scott Brown was introduced by Celtic for the second half and quickly set about riling the Hearts players. He also drove his team forward and, after Stokes headed against the crossbar from James Forrest’s cross, the Scotland midfielder was involved in the breakthrough goal. His instinctive one-touch pass allowed Charlie Mulgrew to prod the ball through to Wanyama, who turned and unleashed a swerving shot into the top corner.
Emotions spilled over at full-time after Jonsson’s penalty miss. Unsurprisingly, Brown was heavily involved as he and Jamie Hamill squared up. Marius Zaliukas sought to intervene but it amounted to little more than some pushing and shoving as players headed towards the tunnel. Hearts were frustrated and Celtic elated after keeping pace with Rangers at the top of the SPL.
“At 1-0 there’s always a chance a team gets a break against you or gets a decision,” said the relieved Celtic manager, Neil Lennon. “I thought we deserved the win because we dominated the game. My only criticism is we didn’t pass the ball too well. The pitch isn’t as good as we’d like but our character and fitness were fantastic. Justice was done at the end, we feel.
“Forster’s been due a save like that. I kept saying to him ‘when are you going to save a penalty?’. He went the right way and got a hand to it. It would have been a huge disappointment not to win with way we played. Our goalkeeper had very little to do. I was disappointed with the penalty decision, although I can see why he’s given it.
“I assume he’s given it for handball but if you see where ball goes it’s impossible for it to be handball. I can understand why decision was given cos he’s used arms for leverage but no contact with the ball. It came off Stevenson’s head. But it’s a good day because it’s six wins in a row. We can’t always expect to win 4-0, 5-0 or 6-0. We had energy and drive in the second half through Forrest and Brown and we got another clean sheet. So I’m absolutely delighted.”
Lennon claimed some Hearts players had attempted to wind Brown up when the penalty was given. “Things were said to Scott as the penalty was awarded and he gave verbal back. I shouldn’t think the referee will take any action. I think it was just a bit of pushing and verbal sparring, not a lot to write about. Brown’s attitude was great and he drove the team on in the second half, it’s a perfect time to have him back.”
Scoring his first Celtic goal was a joyous moment for Wanyama. “It was my first Celtic goal and I’m really happy to score at home,” he said. “It was a bad moment with the penalty but Fraser saved it. We had some minutes to go and maybe we could have done something but it’s a good win. I didn’t know the penalty was against me because I didn’t feel I touched the ball with my hand.
“This was a very important game for us, very hard but we managed three points. I’ve not scored many goals like that. It was my best in professional football. I didn’t know the ball was going to go inside the post, I just struck it. My head was down looking at the ball so I didn’t really see it. I didn’t know what to do to celebrate afterwards.”