Craig Levein wants Hearts to press home advantage against Celtic
Roared on by a partisan crowd, the brave, high-tempo, high-octane, pressing style of play, employed when they hosted the double treble winners last term, gave them a historic win over a Celtic side who had been living up to their invincibles tag. That was in December, when they ended the champions’ lengthy unbeaten domestic run with an emphatic 4-0 victory.
In the next head to head in the capital, in May, Hearts felt that a Kyle Lafferty goal in the opening 20 minutes should have made the scoreline 2-0 in their favour but the referee had already chalked off a John Souttar effort. Without that cushion Celtic battled back and ran out 3-1 victors but there was enough in the game to offer those plotting tomorrow’s tactics hope that a similar performance could reap a different outcome.
“This is as tough as it comes, other than going away to Parkhead,” said manager Craig Levein ahead of the latest encounter with Brendan Rodgers’ men. “But, to a certain extent, we had some success last season, particularly in the two home matches. When I watched back over both games they were actually very similar, the scoreline wasn’t but in the second match we got a perfectly good goal disallowed to go one-nil up and I’m sure that would have made a big difference. That was a sore one to get a poor refereeing decision like that that could have decided the outcome of the game.
“But I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t employ the same tactics that we did in both of the home matches – we did the same in the away match as well. I suppose that is telling Brendan what we’re going to do but I think he would know anyway.”
He may have a good idea of the tactics Hearts are likely to use but with widespread changes to Levein’s squad the Glasgow guests will be less informed when it comes to the individuals charged with executing them.
Minimal changes at Parkhead, along with the timing of the fixture, could be an advantage to the home side.
Levein was at Celtic Park on Wednesday as the Scottish champions drew with AEK Athens in their Champions league qualifying match, and the fact that tie hangs in the balance, the return leg only three days after the trip to Gorgie could be a distraction.
“They are not an awful lot different to last season. But when it comes to playing at Tynecastle, it’s important we play with lots of energy, enthusiasm and make it as competitive as possible,” said Levein.
“There is an intensity about this fixture. I just feel that if we want to improve we’ve got to compete with Celtic and I think we’re getting there but they do have a fairly significant advantage over us with the size of budget so we do everything we can to try to give us the best chance of winning.”
Key to that could be Kyle Lafferty. Left on the bench in recent matches as speculation over a possible return to Rangers captured headlines, his scoring record against Celtic last season could bring about a reinstatement.
“It does factor into my thinking,” admitted Levein, who has been happy with new frontline recruits Uche Ikpeazu and Steven MacLean. “He has trained well this week, he is full of enthusiasm and he scored three goals against Celtic last season. I would be surprised if anyone else did.
“But we have more options, more balance and more strength in depth than last season. We have different ways of scoring goals and we have more players who I feel can score. So I feel comfortable we can create opportunities.”