Hearts left ‘frustrated’ as mistakes are costly against Celtic

“I am sitting here very frustrated. We scored two own goals and gifted Celtic their other goal. They had five shots in the match. So I am sitting here feeling that we shot ourselves in the foot. Celtic don’t need a hand when it comes to scoring goals and I felt that is what we did today, so I am hell of a frustrated.”

Monday, 26th August 2019, 6:30 am
A combination of Hearts defender Christophe Berra and Celtic striker Vikoun Bayo combine to open the scoring for the hosts. Pic: SNS

Craig Levein’s summation of Hearts’ defeat at Celtic Park sums up much of their campaign so far. Frustration is a bit of a buzz word in the camp. Glenn Whelan’s debut in maroon ended in disappointment amid stifling heat as Celtic earned a routine victory at Parkhead. Vakoun Bayo claimed the hosts’ first goal despite suspicions the final touch belonged to Christophe Berra. After the interval, Callum McGregor and Bayo produced further strikes before Conor Washington’s goal from a penalty rebound reduced the deficit.

Hearts created little as an attacking force over the 90 minutes. They did manage to contain their hosts for spells, although Celtic never looked in any danger of not winning after the breakthrough. The Edinburgh club remain joint-bottom of the Premiership with Kilmarnock after taking one point from their opening three games. Hamilton’s visit to Tynecastle on Saturday now becomes a vital fixture even this early in the season.

“Well, our game plan was obviously to try and hit on the counter-attack,” explained Levein, the Hearts manager. “I thought we restricted Celtic very well in the match. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities. But, for me, if you come here and give Celtic five opportunities I would think that’s a fairly reasonable defensive display. But we have scored two own goals and the third one is a silly mistake at the edge of the box.

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“Christophe said the first goal hit his hip, Halkett said the third went in off his toe. I have watched it back and I agree with the boys. You have got to credit the striker with getting into the area and such like, but the facts are the ball has hit off our boys. It doesn’t matter. My point was that we have assisted Celtic in their attempt to score goals. It is just frustrating.”

The visitors competed well in the first half despite falling 1-0 behind on 30 minutes. However, they wilted in temperatures of around 28 degrees after the break. Celtic showed little sign of fatigue after their midweek European exertions and finished comfortable winners.

The injured Steven Naismith and John Souttar did not make it but, for the third successive match, Levein fielded a debutant. The Irishman Whelan took his bow in Glasgow following goalkeeper Joel Pereira and fellow midfielder Loic Damour in the club’s two previous fixtures. Celtic started returning loanee Fraser Forster in goal and surprisingly named Bayo at centre-forward, leaving Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths in reserve.

The decision was vindicated with a man-of-the-match display by the Ivorian. “We were outstanding under the circumstances. It’s as good a performance as I’ve had,” exclaimed the Celtic manager, Neil Lennon. “We had good control in the first half, scored a good goal, and then two outstanding goals in the second half. The only disappointment is the penalty. It’s debatable whether it is a penalty. There was a clear foul on Jullien by Uche Ikpeazu before that. Fraser then saves the penalty and they get a bit of luck with the rebound. Overall, it was an outstanding performance.”

Adding to Levein’s exasperation was a hamstring injury to Hearts right-back Michael Smith. He trudged off after 18 minutes to be replaced by Jamie Brandon. “To be fair, Michael had a tight hamstring during the week,” explained Levein. “He trained on Saturday and said it was good. Obviously there is always an element of risk attached when a player has had a tight hamstring.

“He just said it tightened up and it felt like it was going to go, which would then be as bad as three months. So the decision was fairly easy to make. Young Jamie went on and I thought he did really well. I thought a lot of our players played well. It’s so frustrating to be saying that and at the same time be looking at a 3-1 score.

“I thought Glenn got through the game well. It was hot enough sitting in the dugout, I certainly wouldn’t like to have been running around the pitch. Overall it’s just pure frustration because I feel that a lot of things that we did in the game were really good, particularly the shape of the team and denying the opposition goalscoring opportunities. Things like that are key when you come here to get some points. But I’m frustrated.”

Celtic: Forster; Ajer (Ralston 88), Jullien, Bitton, Bolingoli; Brown, McGregor; Forrest, Ntcham (Johnston 69), Christie; Bayo (Griffiths 78). Unused subs: Gordon, Hayes, Shved, Edouard.

Hearts: Pereira; M Smith (Brandon 18), Halkett, Berra, Hickey; Whelan; Clare, Damour (Ikpeazu 71), Irving, Mulraney (White 81); Washington. Unused subs: Doyle, Bozanic, Dikamona, Henderson.