Tuesday 25 April 2017

Rodgers' Bhoys surpass record of Lisbon Lions record

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and his captain Scott Brown embrace after the team’s comprehensive victory over Hearts at Celtic Park yesterday.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and his captain Scott Brown embrace after the team’s comprehensive victory over Hearts at Celtic Park yesterday.

Roddy Forsyth

There have been better Celtic sides - most notably the team whose record of 26 successive undefeated domestic games was overtaken with this comfortable victory - but Brendan Rodgers and his squad have placed their name in the pantheon with a remorseless application to the job in hand.

Celtic 4 Hearts 0

The opener from Callum McGregor was followed by a double by Scott Sinclair and a Patrick Roberts strike to see off a Hearts side who were well short of the capacity to trouble the Scottish champions and runaway league leaders.

Celtic's Patrick Roberts (left) and Hearts Perry Kitchen battle for the ball. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Celtic's Patrick Roberts (left) and Hearts Perry Kitchen battle for the ball. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Recollection of the circumstances in which Jock Stein's players set the original record conjures a vision of abundance far beyond the means of the current Scottish game.

Precursor

In 1966-'67, the Lisbon Lions were European club champions, while Rangers were losing finalists in the European Cup Winners' Cup to Bayern Munich after extra-time in Germany and Kilmarnock were semi-finalists in the Fairs Cup - precursor of the Uefa Cup - where they lost 4-2 to Don Revie's Leeds United in a tie which saw all six goals scored in the opening 38 minutes of the first leg.

That was the season, too, when Dundee United made their European debut in the Fairs Cup, winning home and away against a Barcelona side who would finish runners-up to Real Madrid in La Liga.

In the second round they beat Juventus at Tannadice before losing on aggregate, but it was United who ended the Lions' unbeaten run with a Hogmanay victory on Tayside.

Hearts Sam Nicholson (left) and Celtic's Kieran Tiernay in action. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Hearts Sam Nicholson (left) and Celtic's Kieran Tiernay in action. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

All of which was garnished by the extraordinary demonstration of superiority by the Scotland team, who cavorted around Wembley while inflicting the first defeat suffered by Alf Ramsey's men since England won the World Cup on the same turf the previous summer.

The statistics of the chronicles, though, record no distinction about the quality or otherwise of the opposition.

The current Celtic side can play only the teams provided by the fixture schedule and they can now set their sights on overtaking another sequence - the 25 straight domestic wins achieved in 2003-'04 under Martin O'Neill.

This game was entirely of a piece with the pattern established early under Rodgers.

Hearts Perry Kitchen (left) and Celtic's Nir Bitton battle for the ball. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Hearts Perry Kitchen (left) and Celtic's Nir Bitton battle for the ball. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

For a short spell - in this case of half an hour - there was the possibility but not the likelihood that Celtic could be thwarted.

The only exception was on December 3 at Fir Park when Motherwell lost 4-3 to a Tom Rogic strike in injury-time after having led 2-0 after 35 minutes.

At the same stage of these proceedings Hearts were a goal behind, yet they were playing against a Celtic side minus significant regulars.

For a start, they were without their two principal strikers, Moussa Dembélé and Leigh Griffiths.

Both had been casualties of last Wednesday's home win over St Johnstone, Dembélé with a swollen knee and Griffiths with a tight calf, with Sinclair being asked to fill the spearhead role.

Celtic's Scott Sinclair (right) and Hearts John Souttar collide. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Celtic's Scott Sinclair (right) and Hearts John Souttar collide. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Further encouragement for Hearts seemed to have been provided by the warm-up, during which Stuart Armstrong aggravated a calf injury which caused him to be replaced by McGregor.

Fortune is a fickle jade, however, and Hearts' hopes had been raised only to be dashed by events.

They were slow to produce any kind of threat but it was just as the Tynecastle players produced their first cogent passage of play that they fell behind, skewered by a counter-attack sprung through their extended ranks and brought to a conclusion when the understudy, Sinclair, supplied the stand-in, McGregor, for a touch and shot which made its way into the net behind Jack Hamilton off the inside of the far post.

Thereafter, it was only a matter of how large Celtic's final tally would be as the gap in possession between the sides widened until it was three to one in the Hoops' favour although, surprisingly, it took until the final quarter-hour for the crushing blows to be delivered in swift succession.

In the 77th minute, a dangerous Kieran Tierney cross was intercepted on the goal line by Aaron Hughes but, as the Hearts defender turned to clear , he was closed down by Sinclair, from whom the ball rebounded into the net.

Rising

Three minutes later Tierney prompted Roberts to take a touch and then find the mark with a rising shot for Celtic's third.

The rout was completed in injury-time when Lennard Sowah fouled Hoops substitute Jack Aitchison for a penalty kick which Sinclair converted with aplomb.

Next potential landmark for this Celtic group is the record established by O'Neill's men 13 years ago.

"Our idea is to keep going," said Rodgers. "I try to focus only on what we can control, which is your training and arrival at the game. The players will tell you that I've virtually not spoken about it at all.

"There's enough pressure in playing football matches but the consequence for us is that we're out there on our own now, which is an incredible achievement, but we've got to look to Wednesday against Aberdeen and to keep it going." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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