Kyle Lafferty chants blared out of pubs along Gorgie Road late on Saturday afternoon. You’ve probably heard them before, referencing his exaggerated height and alleged penchant for a certain musical instrument.
The Northern Irishman enjoyed plaudits for his winner against Celtic but being the figurehead for the 1-0 victory meant several team-mates perhaps did not get the praise they deserved. Peter Haring is a case in point.
The giant Austrian is becoming a revelation and deservedly left Tynecastle Park clutching champagne. His man-of-the-match display showcased the talent of a player who has settled instantly into Scottish football since leaving SV Ried in the second tier of his native league. Haring dominated midfield with a combative but controlled approach, winning tackles and headers, harassing international opponents and showing composure in possession. He is certainly one of the most effective of Hearts’ 13 summer signings. Comparisons with Julien Brellier are not altogether surprising even this early in his career.
With family visiting for the first time, he picked a fine afternoon to reach optimum performance. The whole day now ranks as a career highlight for the 25-year-old. “I didn’t know exactly what the atmosphere would be like but it’s even better than I thought,” he revealed. “The atmosphere was massive. I’ve never enjoyed something like that before. Hopefully we will enjoy days like this again during the season. To beat Celtic in front of a full stadium at home is probably the most special day in my career so far.
“It means a lot to me and it makes me proud. This was the first time my family were here in Edinburgh and it was their first game at Tynecastle Park. I saw them when we went out at kick-off. I saw my mum, my dad, my uncle, my cousin and my nephew, Maxi.”
Lafferty insolently flicked the game’s only goal with the outside of his left foot 11 minutes into the second period. Uche Ikpeazu caused problems for the Celtic defence throughout the game and it was his incisive run into the penalty area – past Kieran Tierney and Jack Hendry – which led to a cutback to the onrushing Northern Irishman 18 yards out. The finish was a joy to behold.
Lafferty had been omitted from the Hearts team recently due to interest from Rangers. Having scored his fourth goal in five games against Celtic since returning to Scotland last summer, there is every chance the Ibrox club’s pursuit of the striker will now intensify.
His goal came after the Hearts captain Christophe Berra was stretchered off with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Aaron Hughes. Haring arrived in Edinburgh as a centre-back and initially feared being shunted back into defence when Berra went off.
“When I saw Hughesie, I knew I was going to stay in midfield. At first, I thought I would maybe go back into defence. I don’t know where I’m better. I don’t think about it. I just try to give my best every day and that’s it,” said the player.
“I enjoyed the game very much because it’s the first time I can enjoy the full Tynecastle Park. The crowd helped us to push till the end and play with lots of energy for the full game.
“Our game is not really difficult. We try to keep it as simple as possible. We know exactly our strengths and weaknesses. On Saturday, the message our coach gave us was to play with as much energy as possible. I think we did that quite well.”
Celtic struggled to find rhythm and posed few serious problems for Zdenek Zlamal in the home goal. Michael Smith cleared Leigh Griffiths’ shot off the goal line near the end of the first half but Hearts finished with a hard-earned three points to stay top of the Premiership with two wins from two games.
Craig Levein’s side are the only team to have beaten Celtic twice domestically under Brendan Rodgers. “I don’t know if we can challenge Celtic, but on Saturday we could,” said Haring. “The season is still very young and we have to think from game to game.”
Rodgers made five changes to his team following Wednesday’s Champions League qualifying draw against AEK Athens. The return leg of that tie is tomorrow and the manager needed fresh legs.
“It was a close game. We coped with the physicality very well,” stated Rodgers. “Coming here, Craig’s teams are physical and they get it up there early. I thought we coped with that and played with a calmness in the first half. We also created one or two chances.
“We started the second half very well but after coping with the physicality we gave the ball away in our build-up play. Under no pressure, we give it away. In fairness to Kyle Lafferty, it’s a really good finish.
“We still had enough time to create problems but we didn’t really effect it enough. You end up losing a very tight game. Congratulations to Hearts. They got the victory and we have to lick our wounds and move on.”