Hearts debrief: VAR verdict; Devlin display; Better tactics; Leaky defence
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It was slow at times, but VAR worked pretty well overall. Sure, it could be better and it wasn’t perfect. It was never going to be. But given the magnitude of the game and the number of incidents, the first Scottish Premiership fixture using VAR to be screened live on TV must be considered a relative success.
It could not have been busier or more eventful match for referee Nick Walsh, who needed his video assistant to get some big calls correct. VAR was needed to make sure Devlin was awarded what, on first viewing, looked like a clear penalty for a foul by Cameron Carter-Vickers. Celtic’s penalty claim for handball by Michael Smith, which VAR dismissed, was a contentious one that could have gone either way.
Hearts were also a tad fortunate that Anthony Ralston’s headed goal was ruled out by Walsh for a foul in the box. There was a slight jersey tug and a nudge, but it seemed to be on the soft side.
Walsh was decisive and correct to award Devlin his second penalty. Thanks to VAR, that one needed a re-take for encroachment, which happens at nearly every penalty. It will be interesting to see how consistent VAR when that happens next time.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Cammy Devlin has had a rest after being suspended and turned in one of his best displays in a maroon jersey. It was a different type of performance to the first half against Zurich at Tynecastle, when he pulled the strings and the tempo of the match from the middle of the pitch. This time more was all about tenacity and bite.
Two times he reacted quicker than his opponent in the box to earn a penalty. When he pressed and snapped into tackles, he won them. That roused the home support and his energy seemed to galvanise teammates too. Robbie Neilson said afterwards that there’s more to come from the Australian. That’s an exciting prospect for Hearts fans.
GALLANT IN DEFEAT
Lawrence Shankland’s hat-trick was the first Scottish domestic treble anyone has scored against Celtic since 1985, which must make this defeat all the more painful for Hearts. The performance was much braver and bolder, more positive and more aggressive than the rather more meek displays against Rangers, Fiorentina and Istanbul Basaksehir of late. But ultimately it was still a defeat, the fifth in six games. Hearts have now conceded 20 goals in six matches, which is symptomatic of the defensive upheaval caused by injuries to key players. The final two goals summed up the problem, with Hearts too slow to react in their own box.
Robbie Neilson’s 4-5-1/4-3-3 set-up worked very well, but mainly because his team didn’t sit too deep like they did home and away against Fiorentina. His team were brave and aggressive enough to step up, play a higher line and get in Celtic’s faces. Three central midfielders also enabled Hearts to compete for control of the middle of the pitch against very slick opponents, and the pace of Josh Ginnelly provided a real on the counter-attack threat down the right.
After six games without a win, Robbie Neilson is under a bit of pressure to record back-to-back victories over Latvian visitors RFS in the Europa Conference League Group A match at Tynecastle on Thursday and away to bottom-of-the-table Ross County.