THE two sides have met four times in the League Cup within the last 20 years. Tonight’s hosts and heavy favourites have actually failed to defeat the men from Gorgie within 90 minutes across those four ties.
CELTIC 0-1 HEARTS (28/10/2009)
Scorers: Hearts - Stewart pen 57
Hearts were struggling in the opening part of Csaba Laszlo’s second season. The Hungarian wanted to be backed by the Hearts board after a successful 2008/09 campaign; instead he was given David Witteveen. The Austrian, who many Hearts fans would include in their worst ever XI, actually featured in this match, coming on as a late replacement for Christian Nade. Not exactly two players who are in the pantheon of Scottish football greats, but the Edinburgh side still managed to earn a victory after Nade was fouled in the penalty area and Michael Stewart tucked away the resulting spot-kick.
Celtic were actually performing well at the time under new boss Tony Mowbray, but the wheels were soon about to come off. Sitting top of the league having lost just once, understandably so away at Rangers, they soon went dropped into second place and faded into the distance behind their rivals after winning only 11 of their next 21 Premier League fixtures. Not a bad run for most teams, but then most teams aren’t demanded to win a league title. At the end of that sequence Mowbray was sacked following a 4-0 defeat at St Mirren.
CELTIC 0-2 HEARTS (31/10/2007)
Scorers: Hearts - Velicka 77, 86
Celtic should have been wary of the threat posed by an underachieving Hearts side in that 2009 encounter since they’d been humbled in a similar scenario only two years previous. The visitors overcame the fact that they didn’t have a proper manager - Anatoliy Korobochka had the position of ‘head coach’ but no-one really understood what the hell was going on - to better Gordon Strachan’s team thanks to a late brace from substitute Andrius Velicka. The first was a good finish but nothing compared the screamer he unleashed into the top corner which ended the match as a contest.
At the conclusion of this season Strachan would win his third and final title at Celtic Park, but he didn’t help himself with the half-time introduction of Evander Sno who could easily have been awarded the Hearts’ man of the match.
Hearts would sail on heedlessly until the turn of the year when Stephen Frail was given the position of manager. The ship would be steadied for an eighth place finish before Csaba Laszlo arrived.
HEARTS 2-5 CELTIC (01/11/2001)
Scorers: Hearts - Cameron pen 36, pen 70; Celtic - Crainey 41, Smith 60, Healy 99, Moravcik 116, McNamara 117
A completely bonkers match eventually finished with Martin O’Neill’s visitors advancing after 120 minutes of football. The tone was set early when Gary Locke and Thomas Flogel knocked each other trying to header the same ball. Despite the forced reshuffle the hosts scored first through a Colin Cameron penalty, only for the advantage to be reversed on the hour mark as Jamie Smith followed Stephen Crainey’s equaliser to give Celtic a 2-1 lead.
Cameron equalised after once again converting from the penalty spot, but the home team ran out of steam as the game went into extra time since they were only able to use one substitute in the latter stages, which Jim Jefferies unwisely spent on Kenny Milne. Colin Healy (it was a deliberately under-strength Celtic XI) put O’Neill’s side back in front before Lubo Moravcik and Jackie McNamara capped off a mad night by scoring twice in as many minutes at the end of extra time.
HEARTS 1-0 CELTIC (17/09/1996)
Scorers: John Robertson 110
Sky cameras, Martin Tyler’s familiar tones and the romance of an underdog story added to the excitement of a classic League Cup encounter.
The hosts went into the match with an entire defence missing after referee Gerry Evans lost the plot at Ibrox a few days previous and sent off four Jambos with varying degrees of justification. In a move that would never be allowed nowadays, Hearts drafted in veteran English centre back Andy Thorn on a week’s contract to plug the gap, while 17-year old Gary Naysmith made his second senior appearance.
You’d have thought the hosts would have been a little timid in mixing it up after getting burned against Celtic’s city rivals. Well, if they were supposed to be then Stefano Salvatori didn’t get the message as he saw red for a second booking after bringing down Paulo Di Canio. Hearts managed to limit themselves to just the one sending off on this occasion and Peter Grant’s dismissal four minutes into extra-time evened the teams up. With the threat of penalties looming, John Robertson delivered the knockout punch to Tommy Burns’s men with ten minutes remaining.