Tynecastle a tough place to go, insists Callum McGregor as Celtic prepare to face Hearts

Callum McGregor in action against Hearts at Tynecastle last season
Callum McGregor in action against Hearts at Tynecastle last season
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There is scant evidence that would compel any observer to suggest that Hearts, who have won just two league games this season and are currently helping Hamilton Accies to prop up the table, have anything in their current armoury to stop Celtic in their tracks.

Neil Lennon’s side go into the game still fresh from the collection of their tenth successive domestic trophy and having established a slight two-point gap at the top over Rangers.

The opportunity to go five points clear will offer ample incentive, should further be required, to leave Tynecastle with another win tallied up.

Callum McGregor, however, has warned that the history between the sides, particularly at Tynecastle, 
cannot be discounted ahead of the meeting. Recalling the afternoon two years ago today when Craig Levein’s side abruptly halted an Invincibles run that had stretched to 69 games, the Scotland internationalist is mindful of the energy and drive that can define Hearts’ performances when they host Celtic on home soil.

“Tynecastle is a tough place to go,” said the midfielder. “The boys have found that over the past five years or so. We will need to be at our very best.

“Why do I think it is such a tough place to go? Every team that plays Celtic and Rangers raises their game anyway.

“It doesn’t matter where the team is sitting in the league, it’s the biggest match for them and subconsciously they raise their game. It’s a tight stadium and the crowd are behind them at Tynecastle.

“You have to battle against that environment as well. I think it being a night match adds a little to the occasion as well. But we know our mindset going into this game and we will prepare properly.”

Daniel Stendel did not get the immediate return he would have wanted at the weekend as Hearts’ woeful run of form continued with defeat by 
St Johnstone. There was the familiar refrain of boos echoing around the stadium as the whistle sounded on another limp display, with the German admitting after the game that there is more hard work than he might have expected ahead of him.

There is an argument to suggest that Celtic can offer a platform for Hearts to set about their rejuvenation.

Given what has been on offer this season at Tynecastle, the home support will head to the game in hope rather than expectation with any kind of battling performance eagerly accepted.

“They will have a lift from the new manager coming in, so we will have to be at our best to get the three points,” said McGregor. “I don’t know too much about him [Stendel]. I know he used to manage Barnsley.

“But I’m sure the coaching staff and the guys at Lennoxtown will have done their homework and we will be ready for whatever tests we face on Wednesday.”

Celtic’s game at Tynecastle means they play one more than Rangers this month but it is a game that allows them to exact a little psychological pressure on their rivals.

Victory would enable them to stretch further ahead of the Ibrox side’s visit to Easter Road on Friday night, with Lennon already expressing the wish to end the month with an eight-point advantage.

Such a run of games has meant eschewing the traditional trimmings of the festive season – not that McGregor is complaining.

“Christmas is a busy period for a footballer but you are more than happy to make those sacrifices,” said the midfielder.

“We will live our life properly in and around the training ground and we will be looking after ourselves at home as well.

”When you get days like a week past last Sunday, when you are raising a trophy at Hampden in front of thousands of your fans, then it is all worth it.

“That’s what makes it special for us as players. You make those sacrifices to get those rewards somewhere down the line.

“We look forward to playing as many games as possible over the festive period and we know we have a tough couple of weeks coming up.

“The games have come thick and fast since June. So it will be nice when we get to January to have a couple of weeks in Dubai. That always helps refresh and refocus the group.”