It was inevitable that Celtic would lose their unbeaten run, but the manner in which they threw away their invincible status should serve as a warning to those who were complacent, who believed the hype around their unbeaten run and who got too big for their own boots.
69 games undefeated across all domestic competitions is an amazing feat and one that will not be matched – certainly in my lifetime – but this season, Celtic’s performances have been above average at best. They have scrambled late goals to secure a draw and maintain their unbeaten run or got the rub of the green when decisions went their way. Look away now Motherwell.
You can roll out all the excuses you want in regards to players being jaded after a gruelling run of games in the first half of the season which includes Champions League games, that Celtic’s defence wasn’t up to scratch or that the pitch was more tattie field than playing surface. The only thing that matters is that Celtic lost the game and in emphatic style.
Hearts fully deserved all three points and the scoreline certainly didn’t flatter them either. In fact, I would go one further and say it flattered Celtic.
Hearts manager Craig Levein, a man seen as a joke figure for many a year since his tenure as Scotland manager, worked a masterstroke. His tactics – based on Anderlecht’s defeat of Celtic in the Champions League – worked a treat and the partisan support inside Tynecastle gorged themselves on the sweet smell of success over a side they love to hate.
Story of the match
First-half goals from 16-year-old Harry Cochrane and Kyle Lafferty gave Hearts a surprising but deserved lead at half time.
A defensive calamity from Simunovic handed David Milinkovic the easiest of chances to make it 3-0 early in the second half, before firing home Hearts’ fourth of the game from the penalty spot after former Jambo Craig Gordon fouled Ross Callachan with 14 minutes remaining.
The final whistle signalled an embarrassing defeat for Celtic and their first domestic defeat since they lost 2-1 away to St.Johnstone in the Premiership on May 11th 2016 – under then manager Ronny Deila – and the first defeat domestically for Brendan Rodgers as Celtic manager.
Press the reset button
Manager Brendan Rodgers spoke after the match about pressing the reset button and starting again. Going forward Celtic must now forget about their unbeaten run and look ahead to each game without the stranglehold of trying to maintain the run.
This season, Celtic looked deflated and burnt out. They were making basic mistakes which would have been rare last season and they seemed to lack any fighting spirit or killer instinct. The hammering at the hands of Hearts – and it was a hammering – must give Celtic, Rodgers and the players a kick in the balls that is much needed.
Far too many regulars were complacent this season and looked to believe the hype that surrounded this team and simply looked to continue this record, rather than concentrating on winning games.
The defeat to Hearts may [or it may not] give some food for thought about their performances this season and it will certainly force Rodgers into making some tough decisions about the future of some of his charges – including the defensive pairing of Boyata and Simunovic, striker Moussa Dembele and the need to bring in a successor for Scott Brown who is nearing the end of his professional career.
It looks like Rodgers has already earmarked the defence for a revamp first of all, with veteran defender Marvin Compper set to become Celtic’s first signing of the January transfer window. Celtic’s defence is the weakest area of the team with the central defensive options of Erik Sviatchenko, Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata badly lacking – especially on the European stage – how much of an impact the 32-year-old will make for Celtic is for another day. But the defence is in much needed shoring up despite some shoddy performances being whitewashed over thanks to Celtic maintaining their unbeaten run previously.
With the loss of Patrick Roberts to long-term injury and his inevitable return to Manchester City, Celtic will need to bring in fresh blood in attack – with the likes of St.Mirren’s Lewis Morgan and Chelsea’s Charly Musonda linked with a move to Parkhead. Ryan Christie will return to Celtic after his loan stint at Aberdeen comes to an end in the summer, while the likes of Hibs midfielder John McGinn already being tipped for a move along the M8 thanks to his recent performances for Neil Lennon’s Easter Road side.
Celtic MUST press the reset button, but Rodgers, more importantly, needs to take a side that still has Ronny Deila’s fingerprints all over it and create a version two that can take Celtic to the next level. Not only domestically but also in Europe.
Up next for Celtic is a midweek clash against Partick Thistle at Parkhead with everyone at Celtic looking to bounce back to winning ways before a tough test against second-placed Aberdeen – who are coming off the back of battering Hibernian 4-1 thanks to a hattrick from former Dundee United and Celtic midfielder Gary Mackay Steven.
For Celtic it is now about winning games and in an entertaining fashion not about maintaining a record, will they up their game now that the weight of the 69 match unbeaten run has lifted off their shoulders?
We shall wait and see, but for the fans, they should not simply celebrate the unbeaten run they must also continue to hold the players and management to account and demand a higher performance level that must be maintained from the rest no matter who the opponents are.