Jason Holt has achieved the rare feat of scoring against Celtic this season, so his return from injury is especially timely for Hearts.
Today’s fixture at Tynecastle sees the Glasgow club looking to set new Scottish and UK records for the number of league minutes without conceding a goal – Celtic keeper Fraser Forster has not conceded a league goal in 1,124 minutes of action and if he makes it past the 31st minute of today’s match with Hearts without conceding, he will set a new Scottish record – but Holt is unperturbed by Neil Lennon’s green juggernaut.
The midfielder is more excited by his own progress. He managed his first 90 minutes for Hearts Under-20s on Wednesday night following three months out with a broken metatarsal, and is now in contention to face Celtic in this afternoon’s lunchtime kick-off. His goal against Forster last September was the consolation in a 3-1 defeat, but it remains Hearts’ only strike in three meetings with the league champions this season.
Scoring against Forster is becoming something akin to finding the Holy Grail as the giant Englishman continues to defy Premiership strikers.
Indeed, Holt’s name now stands alongside that of the Brazilian superstar Neymar in a list of those to have bulged Forster’s net this season.
“I don’t know about putting me and Neymar in the same sentence,” laughed the 21-year-old, who also scored against Celtic in Glasgow last season. “It’s good to have scored a couple of times against Celtic and if I can do it again I’ll be over the moon.
“In the game I scored, I think we did reasonably well on the whole, even though we got beaten. Stopping Celtic’s records wouldn’t mean anything to us. I think for us it’s just about getting something out of the game. It’s great for Fraser Forster going for his record but we are only interested in ourselves and getting something out of the game.”
Holt is glad to be fit again after a tough winter on the sidelines and playing for the Under 20s this week. “I was surprisingly okay after Wednesday and it’s just good to get my first 90 minutes under my belt. That was my first full game in three months so it’s good to be back.
“It’s been frustrating most of the time. I think when you’re injured that’s always the case and there are times when you think ‘am I ever going to get back?’ But that’s nearly two weeks training under my belt and one full game so things are going well again.
“It was especially frustrating because I was out at a time when the manager desperately needed bodies and I felt a bit helpless. There’s not much you can do but concentrate on your recovery and getting yourself ready again to get back on the park. Now I’m back and feel strong I’m just happy to be back in about things.”
His absence ensured he missed Celtic’s 7-0 win on their last visit to Tynecastle – a Scottish Cup fourth-round tie at the start of December. “It was hard to watch and I think that’s a game probably for the boys to forget,” recalled Holt.
“Watching from the sides it is frustrating because you just want to be out there helping the boys. It was a poor game for us but at the same time I also think that Celtic played exceptionally well.
“Three weeks later when we played them again in the league we gave a better account of ourselves at Celtic Park [losing 2-0]. We did very well up until the goal and that is a performance to build on. Our recent form has been great too. Obviously the League Cup semi-final was a massive disappointment for us and the fans as well. But the league form has been good and we’re looking to continue that.
“This time we need to match Celtic in all areas because I think we let them off the hook a wee bit by not getting in their faces. You can’t allow them time on the ball because they have the quality players to get the goals if you give them space.”
Like many young Hearts players, Holt does not agree with theories that defeats like the one Celtic administered last time at Tynecastle are damaging their development. “I don’t buy into that,” he said. “I think, if anything, these experiences will make you stronger.
“You learn from your mistakes, take the negatives from the game and look to turn them into positives in the next game.
“So I don’t think this season is harming us. I think it will make us stronger, if anything.”