Celebrations of Saturday’s 2-1 opening-day victory against Celtic produced a jovial atmosphere missed for so long in the west of Edinburgh. As Robbie Neilson, Steven Naismith and others jumped around in ecstasy after John Souttar’s late winner, Hearts supporters outside revelled late into the summer night.
Some bounced around the road in front of cars in fits of merriment. Others yelled a brief rendition of “Celtic get battered everywhere they go”. It all seemed good-natured.
No-one in the vicinity missed the irony, however. The irony that Hearts were back in Scotland’s top flight and thriving partly due to a free gift from Parkhead.
The decision to let goalkeeper Craig Gordon leave last summer is still haunting Celtic. Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain are not replacements of similar quality, while the defence in front is unconvincing – witness events in the Capital plus last month’s Champions League exit. It is one of new manager Ange Postecoglou’s biggest problems.
Make no mistake, Gary Mackay-Steven’s opening goal and Souttar’s towering 89th-minute header secured three vital points to start Hearts’ campaign. But Gordon preserved them with two stunning late saves.
Moments after his team went 2-1 up, he spread himself in a one-on-one with James Forrest to deflect his former team-mate’s shot wide. Then he pushed away a netbound header from Celtic’s £4.2million debutant Carl Starfelt.
Neilson rightly described such work as “world-class”. Gordon turns 39 in December and shows no signs of ageing. Celtic can only curse letting him go for nothing to rejoin his formative club – a decision brought sharply into focus by their own defensive weaknesses.
“Unfortunately that’s the clean sheet run ended but I’ll take that for the three points,” said the keeper. He set a new club record of 11 games without conceding until Anthony Ralston’s second-half equaliser.
“It was always going to be difficult for Celtic to keep going after playing extra-time in midweek. We knew if we got to 70 minutes we could take advantage. It was in our thinking to have a go,” added Gordon.
“You need to give Soapy [Souttar] enormous credit for everything in the lead-up to that goal. He chased back to make an unbelievable tackle, then he makes a header on the ground to stop a counter-attack and wins a foul.
“Then he goes up there and sticks the head on the free-kick to score the winner. That epitomised the fight within the squad. We knew the fans would get behind us.”
A total of 5,272 attended and sounded like three times that amount. Their rejoicing at Gordon’s late saves was almost as ecstatic as that of the man himself.
“I didn’t even know who the first one was from till afterwards. Even when it hit my arm I wasn’t really sure I’d got enough on it until I looked round. It was big for us because a draw would have put a dampener on it being so close to the win.
“I’m sure we would have taken a draw beforehand. Everybody was pumped up ready to go in the Premiership. Being captain has given me extra motivation to do a little bit more.”