Celtic lost a colossus in Sean Fallon during the week, but their honouring of a great servant didn’t begin and end with the tributes on the giant screen and the minute’s applause that preceded this game but with the kind of response that Fallon would have appreciated more than anything else – goals and victory.
Celtic: Hooper (2) (85), Samaras (12), Lassad (90); Hearts: Holt (69)
Gary Hooper got two of the four and brought his total for the season to 20, a number that will do nothing to deter his suitor, or suitors, down south. Neil Lennon sang his praises in the aftermath and said he was steeling himself for more bids from the English Premier League. Asked if he thought Hooper’s price had just gone up by another million, the Celtic manager joked: “Yeah, maybe two, maybe five. He was brilliant. That was Gary at his best.”
The striker was a bundle of energy all day, a blur of movement as far as the serially confused Hearts defenders were concerned. You felt for the Jambos. Not only were they deeply fortunate to escape with a “mere” 4-1 loss, but they were also picked on by sections of the home support who had their own take on the club anthem – “Flats, flats, glorious flats...” went the cry.
It’s hard to believe that Hearts had the second best defensive record in the SPL going into this game, the concession of just 22 goals begging one rather obvious question about where on Earth they would be in the table had their resolve at the back not been as stout as it has been. Of course, when you suffer an injury or a suspension or you sell a guy who helped shore things up then you are in trouble.
John McGlynn did well to get Danny Wilson on loan from Liverpool. Wilson went straight into the team at Celtic Park and looked at exactly what he is, a young player low on confidence and chronically short of game-time having played just one match since last March. McGlynn had no choice but to put him in his team, but he would have done so with a grim hope rather than a firm expectation that he would overcome his rustiness and survive the ordeal.
This is where Hearts are right now. They had three teenagers in their starting line-up and two others were only 21 years old. When they took off one teenager at half-time – Callum Paterson – they replaced him with another – Jamie Walker. Later on, the 19-year-old Callum Tapping replaced the 21-year-old Dylan McGowan. Later still, Dale Carrick, aged 18, came into the fray. It was, literally, men against boys.
The game was not even two minutes old when Celtic’s myriad advantages became evident. Adam Matthews, a zestful presence all day, went at one of Hearts’ weakest points – left-back – and got any amount of joy. True, in breaking through and squaring for Hooper to tap in the opening goal, he got a fortunate break when an attempted pass hit a Hearts defender and came back to him perfectly. The defending was desperately confused all the same.
Hooper has been the talk of the place all week, speculation becoming fact when the news of Norwich’s
£5 million bid was confirmed the other day. Norwich are entitled to chance their arm, but £5m was never going to get the job done and they surely knew it. Lennon will be ticking the days off the calendar to the end of the transfer window on the Hooper front. He needs an improved bid from Norwich, or anywhere else, like he needs a firm kick in the nether regions.
Celtic’s intensity carried on a while and they scored again after only 12 minutes, a goal that made you wince slightly for what might become of Hearts in this match. Again, the damage was done initially down the left where Kris Commons skinned and outmuscled Kevin McHattie before firing in a shot that was parried into the path of Georgios Samaras, all alone at touching distance from the Hearts goal just like Hooper before him. The outcome was the same.
The notion that Hearts would be the ones who’d score next would have been deemed a hoot, but they did. Despite a Mikael Lustig header that went just wide, despite Joe Ledley almost scrambling one in, despite a disallowed Hooper effort and missed chances from Scott Brown and another from Ledley, saved by Jamie MacDonald, Hearts shook the place up a little when they pulled a goal back. Nobody saw it coming, Jason Holt included, probably. His shot from distance was speculative, hitting Lustig and then eluding Lukasz Zaluska almost in slow motion.
Not that Holt’s goal had a material impact on the game. Celtic stirred themselves and got a third and then a fourth soon after, Hooper getting the third following good work from Brown – and more hesitant defending from Hearts – with Emilio Izaguirre galloping down his wing and crossing for the substitute Lassad to knock in the fourth.
“The players wanted to give Sean a nice send-off,” said Lennon. They did just that.
Celtic (4-4-1-1): Zaluska; Matthews (Lassad 77), Lustig, Mulgrew, Izaguirre; Brown, Wanyama, Ledley (Kayal 66), Samaras; Commons (Rogne 83); Hooper. Subs: Thomson, Gershon, McGeouch, Stokes.
Hearts (4-3-3): MacDonald; Barr, Webster, Wilson, McHattie; Holt, McGowan (Tapping 71), Taouil (Carrick 86); Paterson (Walker 46), Sutton, Driver. Subs: Ridgers, Smith, Prychynenko, Novikovas.
Referee: Iain Brines.