Celtic 2-0 Hearts: Harsh lesson in frenetic period for Tynecastle side

Balancing the demands of European and domestic football is a skill Hearts are still learning. This was a harsh lesson in the unforgiving nature of elite-level sport.
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The upcoming Europa League play-off return leg against FC Zurich is simply a more important game at this stage of the campaign than Celtic away in the league. Visiting Parkhead in between two vital European ties is far from ideal for the Edinburgh club, but players know they must adapt to a relentless fixture list.

Manager Robbie Neilson made seven changes in a rotation exercise which Celtic exploited to maintain a 100 per cent record this season. A hard-working and well-drilled tactical performance yielded nothing for the visitors, who had Alex Cochrane and Toby Sibbick sent off late in the game.

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They stifled the green-and-white threat for much of the afternoon but failed to register a shot on target themselves. Kyogo’s early strike and a late one from Giorgio Giakoumakis decided the points with Celtic in no mood to sympathise over Hearts’ frenetic schedule.

The Tynecastle squad now prepare for the Swiss champions arriving in the Capital as they seek to overturn a 2-1 deficit from Thursday evening’s first leg in St Gallen.

A minor back issue was behind the absence of Hearts captain Craig Gordon as Ross Stewart deputised in goal. Defender Stephen Kingsley wasn’t risked either having made only his first competitive start in Switzerland against Zurich.

Cammy Devlin, Jorge Grant, Lawrence Shankland and Barrie McKay were left on the substitutes’ bench, perhaps with Thursday’s return leg in mind. Celtic fielded a strong line-up ready to attack their guests.

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From Daizen Maeda’s 13th-minute cross, Kyogo confidently stroked the ball beyond Stewart and into the net from six yards. That didn’t quite signal a deluge although Celtic played mainly in Hearts’ half combining intricate passing with pace out wide.

Celtic winger Jota takes on Hearts defender Nathaniel Atkinson at Celtic Park.Celtic winger Jota takes on Hearts defender Nathaniel Atkinson at Celtic Park.
Celtic winger Jota takes on Hearts defender Nathaniel Atkinson at Celtic Park.

The visitors broke forward with a flowing passing move to carve their best opening approaching the half-hour point. Josh Ginnelly was put through on goal in the inside-right channel shot early and dragged his effort wide of Joe Hart’s right post. Stewart then collected Maeda’s header at the opposite end.

Hearts were managing to contain Celtic relatively well and, early in the second period, Stewart made an impressive reaction stop to thwart Matt O’Riley following Greg Taylor’s cutback.

The normally-hostile Parkhead crowd seemed quieter than usual awaiting a second goal. Substitute Giakoumakis laid a perfect ball into the path of defender Moritz Jenz, only for the German to scoop a wayward shot high into the stand.

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The final 15 minutes arrived amid a low-key atmosphere inside Celtic Park. For as long as the hosts’ advantage remained only one, there was always the prospect of Hearts mustering an equaliser.

Sibbick and Cochrane both received second yellow and subsequent red cards in the final minutes. After Stewart’s brilliant low save denied Giakoumakis in stoppage-time, the Greek converted Josip Juranovic’s low cross to complete a 2-0 final scoreline.

Celtic (4-3-3): Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Jenz, Taylor; O’Riley (Mooy 71), McGregor, Turnbull (Hatate 55); Maeda (Abada 55), Kyogo (Giakoumakis 71), Jota.

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Stewart; Atkinson Sibbick, Rowles, Cochrane; Haring (Neilson 71), Halliday (M Smith 60); Forrest (McKay 65), Boyce (Shankland 65), Mackay-Steven (C Smith 71); Ginnelly.

Referee: Kevin Clancy.

Attendance: 58,776.