Reo Hatate conjures Celtic magic as disrupted and depleted Hoops survive furious Hearts flurry – big match verdict


Reo Hatate took it upon himself to dish out Celtic’s own form of savage pain.

So did team-mate Giorgos Giakoumakis and this time it was Hearts who were left battered and bruised as Ange Postecoglou’s troops resisted a furious late flurry to maintain their title charge.

Disrupted and depleted, the championship challengers remained deadly.

Postecoglou wasn’t happy with some of the treatment meted out to his side in Alloa but it was his boys inflicting first-half agony in Gorgie.

Hatate struck a devastating blow. The Harry Potter fan conjured up a magical opening goal to get his side started in the capital.

Giakoumakis was the one being dangerous soon after when his clever finish doubled the lead and had them standing on the Jambos’ throats.

Yet by the end of this utterly absorbing and pulsating clash, Celts were gasping for air as the home side retaliated.

Rattled by a Liam Boyce strike which halted their momentum, Celtic were then plunged into panic when the Hearts striker had an opportunity to level from the penalty spot.

Yet there was one last searing boot for Hearts as the spot-kick cannoned against a post and Postecoglou’s men walked away from the fight unbroken.

It was some battle. Missing key stars such as skipper Callum McGregor, it was a huge success for Celtic.

In extending their unbeaten domestic record to 20 games they stayed in touch at the Premiership summit.

Hearts’ battling effort almost prevented them losing for just a second time at home this term. If Boyce’s penalty had been just an inch closer, they would have produced a marvelous fightback.

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Heart of Midlothian’s Liam Boyce misses from the penalty spot

Boss Robbie Neilson could take plenty of positives but no points, despite their defiant effort in the second period of a game which just refused to relent.

It doesn’t ever take long for this fixture to warm up. This was no exception.

In less than 30 seconds Hearts forced an error from Hatate which let Barrie McKay shoot over.

That was down to pressure on the ball. So was the need for John Souttar to make a brilliant block in his own box as Celtic’s Matt O’Riley jumped on a mistake to pull the trigger.

These two players were among the selection talking points. Souttar was back from injury for Hearts and new loan signing Ellis Simms completed a switch from Everton to make the bench.

O’Riley was a debutant for Postecoglou in the playmaker role, while Jota was back in the starting line-up for the first time in six weeks.

Due to injury and absence, only four of the Celtic team who started the opening league clash of the season at this same venue were in place here.

There was togetherness on and off the pitch when applause rang out after 13 minutes for young fan Devin Gordon who died last week but it was a brief moment of harmony in a battle for supremacy which the Hoops grasped before half-time.

Jota helped start their ascendance. Twice he managed to engineer himself into shooting position on the left of the box, twice he managed to unload and twice keeper Craig Gordon managed to get down sharply to stop.

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Whether Jota’s twisting had anything to do with right-back Michael Smith going off injured is unknown but just as sub Nathaniel Atkinson was taking over, James Forrest cracked another effort at Gordon.

As Nir Bitton had another go, it was clear Celtic were upping the ante. Hatate then took it to another level with a blistering opener.

Pouncing on some gifted possession, the Japanese star drove from halfway and didn’t even look for other options as he opted to unleash when on his forward run.

Such was the purity of the strike from 30 yards that not even Gordon could get near it as it exploded beyond his right hand and into the net.

Reo Hatate scores

It was a stunning way for Hatate to open his Celtic account and the Hoops were suddenly flying.

Forrest hit the side-netting and 10 minutes from the break Giakoumakis produced a lethal second goal. Sharp passing created space for O’Riley on the right and he spotted the Greek striker’s near-post run to slide a center into the box.

Giakoumakis was under pressure from marker Souttar but predatory skills saw him deliver a deft flick which nestled in the net.

Postecoglou’s new boys had come up trumps and Hearts were rattled.

Cammy Devlin was involved in an incident with Jota which saw both sets of players get involved and booked before the interval.

Neilson needed to turn the tide. Simms replaced Josh Ginnelly for a quickfire debut at the restart and had an instant impact.

Celtic retained their early menace though. Josip Juranovic flashed an effort which Gordon saved but Hearts were stronger after Neilson made more changes.

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I have switched the system to four at the back and got a lifeline just after the hour. McKay’s neat pass gave Boyce time to roll the ball between the legs of goalie Joe Hart.

Celtic players screamed for an offside flag just as Hearts had done at the Giakoumakis goal but Hearts now sensed they could forge their way back into this match.

Ellis was causing bother and headed over but, with 18 minutes to go, the golden chance to level was wasted.

Referee John Beaton stood right in front of handball shouts against both Bitton and O’Riley and he pointed to the spot.

Boyce gave Hart the eyes and reversed his penalty but pulled it a fraction too much and it bounced off a post away to safety.

It was a huge let-off and although there was more pressure as Celtic wobbled, Postecoglou’s boys survived.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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