Hearts-Celtic reaction: 197 days - incredible Celtic penalty stat; 'Oooh, ahh up the VAR' and where's Willie Gibson?

Hearts and Celtic put on a show at Tynecastle in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday in the game of the season so far. The visitors earned the points in a seven-goal thriller that saw VAR play a pivotal part. Substitute Greg Taylor struck the winner to make it 4-3 with 14 minutes left in the epic Premiership contest. Lawrence Shankland, another sub, struck a hat-trick for the hosts – including two penalties.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou can't believe his side haven't been given a penalty as his side won a 4-3 classic against Hearts (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou can't believe his side haven't been given a penalty as his side won a 4-3 classic against Hearts (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

‘The Gorgie Garbo’

“Spare a thought for Hearts centre Willie Gibson, who hit a hat trick against Celtic – and finished on the losing side.” This is how one newspaper began a report after Gibson scored three first-half goals against Celtic in November 1976 and yet ended the game with nothing tangible other than the match ball.

Hearts were twice two goals ahead but fell to an 87th minute Ronnie Glavin winner as Celtic triumphed 4-3. “In the bath afterwards, I didn’t know whether to be happy or gutted,” the reclusive Gibson told Aidan Smith in a rare interview in The Scotsman in 2017. The “Gorgie Garbo” had been tracked down to Fife.

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Fast forward 46 years and Lawrence Shankland experienced the same kind of bittersweet afternoon in a maroon shirt after scoring a hat trick inside 20 minutes against the same side. It seems remarkable that the last two Hearts players to score three times in the league against Celtic could still not finish on the winning side. It’s only happened one other time – Alex King in September 1895. At least Hearts won that one 5-0.

The 1976-77 season, meanwhile, was another campaign when Hearts struggled with the twin demands of European and domestic football. They had just been beaten 8-3 on aggregate by SV Hamburg in the Cup-Winners’ Cup and were hovering around mid table before the 4-3 reversal against Celtic – Kenny Dalglish was among the scorers for the visitors – kicked off a three-match losing run. The redoubtable Gibson struck the next time Hearts played Celtic as well – but they lost that one 5-1.

Hearts will be eager to avoid a repeat of how that campaign ended, with the club’s first-ever relegation after finishing ninth in the 10-team league.

“We only take them in training” – the Celtic penalty mystery

Ange Postecoglou never gives the impression of getting too up or indeed too down about much and that includes the introduction of VAR. It seems his feelings can be summed up by: it was inevitable so why bother getting too worked up about it?

He is a football man and he has some grumbles, which are shared by many. “I don’t like the whole theatre around it,” he said after yesterday’s game. But his biggest gripe – VAR or no VAR - was the fact that Celtic did not get a penalty when James Forrest’s flick struck Michael Smith’s arm. The Celtic manager rightly felt it should have been seen by Nick Walsh in real time. Quite why the referee wasn’t invited to review his decision is another matter.

It prompted Postecoglou to address the great Celtic penalty mystery: why aren’t they getting any? Yesterday was the Australian’s 500th day in charge at Celtic. It’s not quite as long since his team were last awarded a penalty but it’s getting there: 9 April 2022. 197 days ago, in other words.

And it was hardly a critical award. Said penalty provided the fourth goal in a 7-0 win over St Johnstone. As someone wondered at Tynecastle, who even takes Celtic penalties these days? On that afternoon it was Josip Juranovic.

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The full-back was on the bench yesterday so it wouldn’t have been him stepping up had they got one – which they didn’t. Postecoglou is mystified. It does appear strange that a team that attacks with such intent, and so relentlessly, are not winning any fouls in the box.

“I thought we had a clear-cut handball, so what do I know mate?” commented Postecoglou in the post-match interview with reporters. “Even on TV apparently that’s not good enough. We’ve not had a penalty all year. I keep hearing opposition managers say we get everything. The only penalties we have taken so far are in training.”

When he says “all year”, he does in fact mean all season – told you he was a football man (like all football people, he regards seasons as years). But not having had one all season – that’s 17 games now, Europe included – does appear curious. If only there was some form of technology available to help officials when it comes to incidents in the box.

Celtic fans hail VAR

While their manager railed against the stoppages that are an inevitable consequence of a system reliant on repeated replays, it did seem as if the Celtic fans were more enamoured by VAR. On occasion at Tynecastle, when the wind was blowing in the right direction, it was possible to hear them belt out: “Ooooh, ahh, up the VAR, oooh, ahh up the VAR!”

At least that seemed to be what they were singing.

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