Manager of the year. Player of the year. Young player of the year. One change from the team that drew with Rangers (and we don’t need to ask if we wish our Glasgow rivals well in Seville, but we do wish our rivals, Hearts, all the best in their final). Best for Hearts today, Craig Gordon which tells its own story.
Our generosity extended to giving them the opening goal in three minutes. A shy, a Boyce touch and Ellis Simms lashed it into the corner of the net.
David Turnbull in for Hatate. The Japanese midfielder has looked jaded in recent games. And it wasn’t that long ago that the Scottish young player of the year was a first pick for Celtic. His first start since December. He looked sharp and had our first chance to equalise, chesting the ball down and shooting from just inside the box, but an easy enough save from Craig Gordon.
Competition for places has made us stronger. Matt O’Riley starts ahead of Rogic. But we all know the Australian will come on. Just as we know that Giakomoukis will come on for Kyogo. Abada, perhaps even Forrest or Bitton, will get a run out. It was our on loan Portuguese winger who created both goals in the first-half.
Half-hour in and he played a ball for Kyogo, who was coming back from an offside position. Jota picked it up himself and squared the ball to Daizen Maeda. His shot went between Gordon’s legs.
Seven minutes later Kyogo got his goal. O’Riley out wide created space and whipped in a cross. Jota’s headed cut back and Kyogo’s header was over the line, despite Gordon palming it out. We were in front for the first time and dominating possession. McGregor, in particular, looked to be everywhere.
Kyogo had an earlier chance saved and O’Riley had a header easily saved by Gordon. There might even have been a penalty, just on half-time with Taylor going down in the box after a flailing arm from Ginnelly. But the Japanese duo helped put us ahead after a strong Heart’s opening.
Matt O’Riley gets my vote for man of the match. At the start of the second-half he got away from Moore in the box, but rather than shoot he squared the ball and it was cut out, but that apart, flawless.
Gordon almost scored an own goal. Palming a ball off Kingsley from a Maeda cross. Then O’Riley found some space in the box, hit it with his left foot which was blocked, and hit the inside of the post, with the rebounded right-footed shot.
Hatate, Abada and Giakoumakis come on for Turnbull, Maeda and Kyogo.
Hearts began to dominate possession and had several crossed and corners. O’Riley’s size and strength allowed him to defend and clear from Boyce and other attackers. When it was getting a bit nervy, O’Riley effectively finished the game for us. With around 15 minutes of the 90 remaining, he picked up the ball at the back post and guided a shot into the corner of the net—Champions.
O’Riley found space from a Greg Taylor cross to the back post to almost grab a second and a third goal for Celtic. Gordon saved. Tom Rogic came on for O’Riley.
Jota, who was also man of the match (since we’re Champions, I can nominate two man of the matches), thought he’d scored, taking the ball through and dinking it past Gordon. He went away to celebrate, but realised he was offside. He was replaced for a James Forrest cameo. He set up, fellow substitute, Hatate who had a couple of near misses from the edge of the box. Forrest also had a couple of strikes on goal, before helping set up our poacher supreme, Giakoumakis. He got the goal he craved on the 90th minute. We got the victory we deserved. Celtic do the huddle after a 25 point swing from last season and a poor opening spell. Celtic do the double. Ange Postecoglou takes us to where we want to be. Guarantees us £40 million Champions League money. Alleluia.
Abada had time for another effort on goal, but missed. He picked up an injury in the dying seconds.