It was a result that made headlines far and wide but now that the teams are about to square up again, Hearts manager Craig Levein would prefer to keep matters as low-key as possible.
The first team to beat Celtic in domestic action since May 2016, the thumping 4-0 victory of Brendan Rodgers’ men in December brought to an end their 69-game unbeaten run. The manner of the triumph sent shockwaves through Scottish football and made the news elsewhere but Levein said that is now behind them and they have to be ready for whatever the defending champions throw at them at Celtic Park on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s better if we don’t talk about that as it will probably just rile them up even more!” said Levein, pictured below. “ What I will say is that on the day everything went great for us. We got some breaks, they missed some chances and we got goals at critical moments and it was a great day for us. But the set of circumstances won’t be replicated because first and foremost we are not at home and we might have to play it in a different way, depending on personnel. But we will see.”
The result was a blow to a Celtic squad who have shown over the past couple of years just how lethal they can be when it comes to punishing rivals. Against such a backdrop Hearts could be excused some trepidation but the Tynecastle boss insists that is not an issue and the prevailing mood is more positive.
“There is an element of excitement about going to play at Celtic Park. It is a great venue and it is always an exciting day when you play there.”
But he is aware of the task they face. “[Celtic] do have personal pride and they don’t put together a run like they did without having determination and pride in what you are doing. I expect a more determined Celtic than might have been the case last time and I expect them to be even more up for it.”
While normal service was resumed by Celtic in the wake of that defeat, Hearts have been on an unbeaten run of their own. Clean sheets have been the foundation of their success – yesterday’s late leveller for Motherwell was the first goal they had conceded in 830 minutes – and while they have shown themselves capable of rattling in a few goals, they are looking for the same level of consistency at the top end of the pitch as they have shown at the back.
In that regard, the arrival of Steven Naismith has been an undoubted asset and with Kyle Lafferty back from suspension he’s able to line up alongside his former team-mate. It has been a source of frustration for Levein that he has not been able to partner them up since the Scotland international arrived on loan from Norwich but “Kyle coming back from suspension is a boost and he likes playing against Celtic so that is another thing that is a boost for us”.
It means he can include another proven winner in his line-up which is slowly beginning to shape up the way he would like. The January transfer window has allowed him to offload players and replace them with guys he believes are higher calibre. He has addressed the balance of the side and added pace, width and balance and, while there could be even more to come, he has already tackled the frontline. More than that, he says he looks at the squad and sees more belief in the ranks.
“Confidence is a much sought-after thing and if we could go down the shops and buy a bottle then I think we all would. You get confidence from experiencing something and feeling good about yourself and then you do it again and feel better and do it again and feel even better. I wouldn’t say that the Celtic game was the big spike. We have been steadily getting there but that gave us a jump.
“I am gradually learning about the players. We have added some new players but one of them is Steven, who I know from previous and I know his character. I am still learning about young Deme [Mitchell] but I have been really pleased with what I have seen so far.
“The players we have had for a while I am getting to know better but then we have added another, Danny [Amankwaa], and we might add another player before the game so it depends who they are, I might have to learn a bit about them. But the important thing for me is having players on the pitch who lead by example and talk and cajole and we are fortunate that we have a number of those.”