Andy Harrow looks back at Hearts’ impressive early season victory over Celtic at Tynecastle.
Souttar will need to maintain his levels in Berra’s absence
The ‘severe’ hamstring tear which appeared to end Christophe Berra’s involvement against Celtic is likely to rule the captain out for a number of weeks. For Hearts and Craig Levein, it’s a major blow to lose such an influential player so early in the season.
Berra has not only lead Hearts with terrific performances, he’s taken an active role in developing his defensive partner, John Souttar, who has had time to learn and grow in his shadow. As the remaining first-choice centre half, there will now be pressure on Souttar to lead the back-line in Berra’s absence. He was excellent against Celtic and will need to maintain that form if his injured partner isn’t going to be sorely missed in the weeks to come.
Defeat might strengthen Rodgers’ case
In the long run, defeat to Hearts might work out in Brendan Rodgers’ favour. The Celtic manager would certainly have preferred not to go down to such an early league defeat - the club’s earliest in over a decade - but it perhaps bolsters his argument that he’s in need of reinforcements to challenge on all fronts this term.
Rodgers made five changes to the side who drew with AEK Athens, no doubt with an eye on the return leg in Greece. Forrest, Ajer, Rogic, Ntcham and Edouard were all rested and it was noticeable how much Celtic missed them. Leigh Griffiths looked rusty in the lone striker role and fashioned few clear cut opportunities, Jonny Hayes is yet to show his Aberdeen form, Jozo Simunovic was awkward and the £3m Eboue Kouassi cost looks as poor a bit of business today as it did last season.
Allied to that, the sides challenging Celtic in the Premiership look especially difficult to beat this season. As Saturday afternoon proved, Celtic perhaps can’t rely on the second string like they once could.
Uche Ikpeazu is a lot of fun
The sight of Ikpeazu charging around the well-cut grass pressurising Celtic players in the dying minutes, like an an enthusiastic dog chasing his favourite ball, was greeted with throaty cheers from the Tynecastle stands. And no wonder.
Ikpeazu is yet to score for Hearts in the league, but goals are over-rated when it comes to judging the former Cambridge United player’s performances so far. He was a nuisance to the Celtic back line throughout Hearts’ win and set up Kyle Lafferty’s goal with a mixture of pace and power which left Jack Hendry trailing in his wake.
Should Lafferty leave, Ikpeazu might need to starting finding the net, but his industrious, intelligent play so far has made him an early fan’s favourite.
Hearts will miss Lafferty’s goals if he leaves
If Kyle Lafferty could play Celtic every week, he’d be on course for the Golden Boot award. The Northern Irishman - and former Rangers player - clearly revels in facing the Parkhead club, scoring four in his last five games against them.
Should Lafferty leave for Ibrox before the close of the transfer window, Hearts will no doubt miss his handy knack against Brendan Rodgers’ men. In fairness, Lafferty is pretty good at scoring against most clubs in the Scottish Premiership and the 12 league goals last season were six more than anyone else in maroon managed.
He can be a frustratingly peripheral presence up front - sometimes more engaged in winding up defenders than leading the line - but he can score a goal from very little; a trait which few of Hearts’ other attackers have.
Should he leave, Levein may find it difficult to replace such a mercurial figure.