SCREAMING equalisers are fast becoming Osman Sow’s speciality. Much to Hearts’ relief, their giant Swede drove a raking 25-yard effort into Craig Gordon’s top corner in stoppage time yesterday to earn a 2-2 draw against Celtic.
It followed an equally spectacular strike to secure another 2-2 draw at Fir Park four weeks ago. Scottish Premiership clubs should note he fully intends continuing the trend.
Sow’s outrageous goal was probably best summed up by Tynecastle’s stadium announcer, Scott Wilson. With Celtic leading 2-1 into the 90th minute and the fourth official holding his digital board aloft on the touchline, Prince Buaben rolled a free-kick sideways to Sow: “The fourth official has indicated four minutes of additional ti...WOOOAAH GOOOOOAAALLL!!” Wilson’s emotions took over as he yelled down the microphone.
The shot left Gordon helpless as it arced away from the Celtic goalkeeper into the top corner, courtesy of a minute deflection from Gary Mackay-Steven. “I thought I hit it quite well and then it took a little deflection. I’m thankful for that,” admitted Sow. “It was an important goal because it helped us get a point. We could have got three points or we could have got nothing. Both teams had chances so I think a draw was a fair result. You can’t score if you don’t try [shooting from distance], so you have to do your best.”
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson extolled Sow’s attacking credentials. “He’s got phenomenal ability. He always look like he’s going to create something. Even when the ball comes into him, you always believe there will be something coming off him – a shot or a cross or a chance for someone else.”
It was indeed an enthralling game and an excellent advert for Scottish football in front of Sky Sports’ viewers. Celtic’s start took Hearts aback but the hosts recovered and were dominating play. They forced Gordon into important saves from Buaben and the energetic Gavin Reilly before falling behind on 42 minutes.
Igor Rossi bizarrely charged forward from defence after tackling Callum McGregor and ended up out of position on the right wing. Celtic exploited his absence, forced a quick ball forward which Morgaro Gomis headed clear but McGregor collected possession and slid a through pass to Nir Bitton. The Israeli midfielder found himself alone in behind the Hearts defence and planted a composed finish beyond goalkeeper Neil Alexander.
Sam Nicholson equalised seconds from the break with a first-time finish from Buaben’s cross. That imbued the hosts with more belief for the second half, but again Celtic emerged with energy and drive. They took time to break Hearts down for a second time but, when they did, it looked like a goal fit to win any football match. Mikael Lustig’s cross was rolled back to Tom Rogic on the 18-yard line by Bitton. The Australian executed a beautiful left-footed finish into the top corner of the net.
Having won only three of their previous eight games, Celtic were content hold on to their slender 2-1 advantage. Hearts weren’t finished, however. On an afternoon when good goals seemed to be the theme, Sow outdid everyone else with his raking late drive. “We had a good spell and were on top in the first half. Then Celtic came back and had pressure in the second half. I thought we were right in the game. We fought for each other and everybody was positive,” continued Sow.
“We will see in a couple of months how far this team can go. I have a good feeling. Everybody is working hard and pushing each other, the staff and the players. We just have to dig out and take as much as possible. Last week was tough with ten men for a long time but we fought well and we fought well again. Every time we go out and play Celtic, I think we have a chance to win. You have to think that otherwise there’s no point.”
Such was the open nature of the match that either team could have emerged as victors. Yet this was also a tough affair which left some protagonists bruised and battered. Celtic lost Stuart Armstrong and Dedryck Boyata through injury, and Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum was also forced off. Neilson explained why his team were frustrated not to win.
“I wouldn’t say I’m pleased with a point. I spoke to the players as soon as they got into the dressing room and asked them if they were happy with a point. To a man, they said no. They want to be winning games like that. We had a great opportunity to go get three points but we gave up a slack goal in the first half and then a bit of slack play lets Celtic in again in the second half.
“We had to fight back twice but that shows the distance we’ve come in the last 18 months. The boys are disappointed not to take three points against Celtic, the top team in the league. That’s the aim. I’ll take a point but I’d rather have three. We’ve still got a distance as go. We want to challenge but it’s going to take a year or two years to try and build with this team. It’s definitely something we can do.”
Ronny Deila, the Celtic manager, remains under pressure after an indifferent run of results. His team remain top of the league by one point from Aberdeen, with Hearts third and nine points behind the Pittodrie club. “It was disappointing [to lose the lead twice] but what I am happy with is the good team spirit in the team,” said Deila.
“Losing against Motherwell was disappointing, people were playing for themselves instead of playing for the team. Today I saw my old team back again. I saw a hard-working team which was organised and who played forward quickly and that is the way I want to see my team.”
Deila was philosophical on Sow’s goal. “Sometimes you have to give credit to the opponent when you have strikes like that. Craig had no chance. Maybe it was a deflection but that was an unbelievable goal.”