Esmael Goncalves: Hearts desperate to spoil Celtic party

Esmael Goncalves is confident the Jam Tarts can be title party poopers
Esmael Goncalves is confident the Jam Tarts can be title party poopers
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Esmael Goncalves has already halted one Celtic silverware quest and fully intends a repeat this weekend.

The Glasgow club will clinch the Premiership title with a win at Tynecastle on Sunday, but Hearts’ Portuguese forward is determined there should be no championship party in Gorgie.

Esmael Goncalves scores for St Mirren against Celtic at Hampden in the semi-final of the League Cup

Esmael Goncalves scores for St Mirren against Celtic at Hampden in the semi-final of the League Cup

He is well versed in stopping them in their tracks. Goncalves’ debut in Scotland was on loan at St Mirren in the 2013 League Cup semi-final, when he scored in a 3-2 win over Celtic. He struck again in the final as Saints ironically beat Hearts to lift the trophy.

The 25-year-old is now a key part of Ian Cathro’s squad and is ready to take down Celtic again. Brendan Rodgers’ side may be unbeaten domestically, but the prospect of having to watch a title celebration in your own back garden is distinctly unappealing for Goncalves.

“We don’t want that to happen. We don’t want them to have a party in our home,” he said. “We are going to do everything to be the first team to beat them. It would be amazing to be the only team who beat them until now.

“It was an amazing day [in the League Cup semi]. We worked a lot on Celtic and how they play and we made it difficult for them. Everything we worked on in training, we did in the game.

“Of course we were underdogs. Any time you play Celtic that is normal, but it is not impossible to beat them. I did it already so I think we can make it happen here at Hearts.

“We have prepared well and everything we do in training is about how we can stop them and beat them. It has been great and hopefully we can show that on the pitch. I like these games. I like to play against the big teams. It’s a chance to show our them we also have qualities.”

Celtic carry a certain awe with them this season due to that domestic invincibility so far, although Goncalves isn’t a player who is easily intimidated.

His Hearts debut came on the night Rangers fell to a 4-1 defeat at Tynecastle back in January. Reproducing the same verve against Glasgow’s other half would appear central to Sunday’s outcome.

“Of course Celtic’s run is impressive but we are also a good team. When we are on our day, we can beat them,” said Goncalves. “We showed it against Rangers. If we are on a good day, we can achieve amazing things.

“Yes, we are working on that [repeating the Rangers display] in training. We are working on how we can beat Celtic and how we can play to stop them. I hope it’s going to work.”

Hearts need three points this weekend for reasons other than merely delaying Celtic’s title celebrations. Sitting fifth in the Premiership at the moment, their own target is Europe -–either by finishing third or by taking fourth place and hoping Celtic, Aberdeen or Rangers lift the Scottish Cup.

Goncalves was one of nine new January recruits and admitted it has taken time for such a large influx to settle and get to know their new surroundings.

“Europe is still a possibility,” he stressed. “We still have to play St Johnstone home and away. There are nine games so I think we can make it. That’s our target.

“The players are getting used to the players who came in January. We are getting better and I think we can achieve it. If Celtic, Aberdeen or Rangers win the Scottish Cup then fourth place gets into Europe, so we can make it happen.”

Revitalised after the international break, Hearts are out to finish the 2016/17 campaign with a flourish. They have won just five of their last 18 games in all competitions and know that supporters are demanding improvement.

“We took a little rest. I think we needed that because we had been working hard,” said the striker. “We have been training hard this week.

“In football, you never know. You can work on a lot of things and arrive in the game with nothing coming out. With the work we have done until now, I think we will be good on Sunday.

“It is a little bit difficult because we came in and some players take a little time to adapt to scottish football. It is different from other football elsewhere in Europe and we need time to adapt.

“Once we are used to Scottish football I think we can make amazing things happen. We are a good team, good players and we now just have to show it.”

Criticism from fans was unavoidable prior to international fortnight. Now Goncalves hopes the Hearts public regroup and get behind their team for one last push.

“Of course it is important that the fans are with us because we need them to push us on. It is important to score the first goal because then you are 1-0 up and it is more easy to play.

“We can then focus on the game so one goal of a start would be amazing. But even if you lose 1-0 at the start then it is not finished because when Celtic score a goal, they relax a bit and that gives us a chances.”

• Esmael Goncalves was speaking at the SPFL Trust “Trusted Trophy Tour” at Tynecastle. The tour recognises sterling work done by Scottish clubs’ community organisations.