O'Riley verdict, new Ange signing sparkles again; 3 things we learned as Celtic break Hearts

By Euan Davidson

January 26, 2022

Admit it; you had every right to be a bit nervous as Celtic headed out to Tynecastle to face Hearts tonight.

We had to play a new midfield pairing, some of our best players are absent, and well, it’s Hearts. There’s always controversy, heart-in-mouth moments and plenty of discussion for days afterwards. We just needed to make sure that the discussion was positive, in terms of Celtic’s display.

Well, thankfully, that’s not going to be an issue. Just about. Celtic were absolutely excellent against Hearts tonight in the first half, negating the Tynecastle atmosphere with goals, great phases of play and some excellent performances.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The second wasn’t such a comfortable affair. Hearts, as it typically the case at Tynecastle, gave us a right good scare. Liam Boyce, somewhat offside, got a goal back for the Jambos, and nearly added to his tally with a penalty.

This was a strange game; there were plenty of solid Celtic performances, but just as was the case with the Alloa game, the Hoops made it a nervous watch late on.

Matt O’Riley, on his debut, was efficient in the extreme, to give an example. Giorgos Giakoumakis made it another start, another goal.

So what did we learn? Really, what didn’t we learn? Here are 3 things from a potential list of hundreds.

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Matt O’Riley passes his induction as Celtic beat Hearts

Use whatever cliché you like; baptism of fire! Being thrown in at the deep end! Whatever you like, Matt O’Riley’s debut could be justifiably described as any of the above.

Moving up from League One, and MK Dons, might’ve been a gentler process were Ange Postecoglou in disposal of his strongest XI. Instead, in typically 21-22 fashion, O’Riley was put in from the start against Hearts and Celtic prospered with the creative midfielder in place.

Alongside Reo Hatate, you wouldn’t know the duo are new Celtic players. We’ll get to Hatate in more detail, but O’Riley showed exactly why Ange Postecoglou signed him. His rotations with right-sided players created the second goal. He was getting into tackles, making key passes across the front, and was generally a live-wire.

Hearts really couldn’t deal with him.

By an hour, he made a staggering 8 key passes. He also won a fair share of his duels, and made a glut of ball recoveries [Fotmob]. It was a genuinely excellent midfield display.

There are more opportunities for the former England youth star. Dundee United and Rangers await, both big, big games. O’Riley, on the basis of tonight, very much wants to be involved.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Reo Hatate builds on excellent Celtic debut with display against Hearts

Reo Hatate, mate; what a goal.

In normal circumstances, you might wonder what’s going through a midfielder’s head when they shoot from range. There’s a reason that moments where they do go in are pretty special.

And “pretty special” is how you’d describe Reo Hatate’s strike, as it steamed past a helpless Craig Gordon. And it was justified; Hatate had another really good game.

The Man of the Match against Hibernian, Hatate has gone from being a new player fans didn’t know a whole lot about, to a guy you might put in our best XI, fitness willing. The former Kawaski Frontale man looked composed, confident and enterprising on the ball, providing the pass to Matt O’Riley to set up Giakoumakis, as well as wonderfully taking his own opportunity.

We talked before the window about needing options, quality options. There’s reason to be excited about Matt O’Riley after tonight. Perhaps that’s even more the case for Reo Hatate; two starts, two very good showings.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

2-0 leads need to stop being so dangerous for Celtic

We knew things would be entertaining when Ange Postecoglou took over, but once again, Celtic have made life harder than they needed it to.

In the second half, carrying a 2-0 lead, we let Hearts back into the game. Fine, Liam Boyce was surely offside, but it was a poor chance to concede, let alone a goal.

And instead of using that scare to inspire more dominance, Celtic allowed Hearts far too much of the ball. Liam Boyce had the chance to level from the spot; and the pressure they put on us was immense.

Obviously, teams are going to go at us; that’s the natural flow of a match. But Celtic are needlessly dangerous when 2-0 up. It’s not obvious what the answer to that is; go for more goals and a bigger scoreline, or protect what’s there already?

Either way, it needs figured out. Other teams will be less forgiving, and a dominant display turned into a nail-biter.

Read more: Ange Postecoglou explains why he’s handed Matt O’Riley his Celtic debut at Tynecastle