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  • Griffiths at the double as Celts start their league defence in style

    Griffiths at the double as Celts start their league defence in style

    By: Mark Henderson on 05 Aug, 2017 14:22

  • Scottish Premiership
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Saturday, August 5, 2017

    (Griffiths 29, 63, Sinclair 51, McGregor 73)

    (Goncalves 84)

    LEIGH Griffiths’ brilliant brace helped an impressive Celtic put Hearts to the sword in Paradise to get their quest for seven-in-a-row off to a perfect start with a 4-1 victory.  

    The striker’s cool finish had the Hoops in charge at the break after they had dominated the first half, and it was from his corner that Scott Sinclair doubled the advantage early in the second period.

    Griffiths headed in number three, before he was withdrawn to standing ovation, and Callum McGregor’s ferocious strike sealed the spoils.

    Substitute Isma Goncalves grabbed a late consolation for the visitors, but it couldn’t take the shine off a sparkling opening-day showing from Brendan Rodgers’ side, who are now unbeaten in 49 domestic matches.

    Griffiths led the line for the Hoops in one of three changes to the team that overcame Rosenborg 1-0 on Wednesday night to book the Bhoys’ spot in the UEFA Champions League play-offs.

    Olivier Ntcham and Nir Bitton also came into the side, with the Israeli internationalist continuing in central defence after his impressive performance in the role in Norway as a first-half substitute.

    The injured Erik Sviatchenko dropped out of the starting XI, along with Stuart Armstrong and Jonny Hayes, who were both named among the substitutes.  

    Before the game, in recognition of his 10 years of sterling service to the club, captain Scott Brown unfurled the league flag to huge cheers as Paradise celebrated six-in-a-row.

    After the fanfare, the Hoops soon got down to business, making a brisk start to match, and creating two decent openings inside the opening four minutes.

    McGregor’s precise pass released James Forrest in the box and his cutback narrowly evaded the onrushing Sinclair. Moments later, Griffiths’ corner picked out the unmarked Bitton at the far post but he could only find the side-netting with his header.

    Jon Daly had taken interim charge of the visitors, following the departure of Ian Cathro earlier in the week, and their intentions were clear from kick-off as they deployed nine outfield players behind the ball, leaving Kyle Lafferty to plough a lone furrow up front.

    Aside from a weak shot from Arnaud Djoum that was easily smothered by Craig Gordon, the Tynecastle team offered little going forward and were preoccupied with defensive duties as Celtic probed for openings.

    Midway through the half, persistent play from Griffiths saw him evade the attentions of two defenders before stinging the palms of goalkeeper Jack Hamilton from an acute angle. McGregor reached the rebound but Christophe Berra’s last-ditch tackle denied the midfielder.  

    Some typical tenacity from Brown created the Hoops’ next opportunity. The captain stole possession inside the Hearts half and supplied Sinclair, whose perfectly-weighted pass released Griffiths in the box, but the hit-man failed to hit the target.

    Eventually, just before the half-hour mark, the away side’s resistance was broken. Bitton sliced open the Hearts backline with a raking pass through the middle. Griffiths had timed his run to perfection and, although Hamilton managed to get his hands to the ball, the striker had the composure to apply the finish from the loose ball.  

    Hungry for further reward, the Hoops came close to doubling their advantage through Gordon’s quick-thinking. Spotting Griffiths early run, the keeper quickly launched the ball forward. The Scotland internationalist was on to it in a flash, but Christophe Berra managed to scramble back to block his shot on the line.

    It was one-way traffic, and Forrest was thwarted by Hamilton from an acute angle after Hearts were unable to clear a Celtic corner, and Bitton also looked to have a strong penalty shout waved away when he was pulled back by Grzelak.

    On the stroke of half-time, a tremendous interchange of passing, with Griffiths, Brown and McGregor to the fore, ripped apart the increasingly beleaguered Hearts backline. McGregor, however, couldn’t deliver the finish to what would have been an early contender for goal of the season.  

    The pattern continued after the restart, with Brendan Rodgers’ side bossing possession and maintaining their offensive. Goal number two soon arrived. After Hamilton had saved from McGregor’s drive from distance, Griffiths swung in the resultant corner and, when Berra misjudged the cross, Sinclair bundled the ball home at the far post

    McGregor, growing in prominence, tried his luck twice from long-range, and he was heavily involved in the move that saw Celtic add to their tally. Brown threaded a pass through to the midfielder in the box and he darted to the byline, before picking out Griffiths in the middle, who couldn’t miss from close-range.

    The champions were now in full flow and another sublime piece of play saw them inflict further punishment on the capital club. Receiving possession with his back to goal, Sinclair spun and left his man for dead. He found McGregor, who lashed an unstoppable half-volley into the roof of the net.

    Goncalves’ late goal was no more than mere consolation as the Celts cruised through the closing stages to claim their first three points of the season. 

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig, Bitton, Simunovic, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham (Armstrong 87); Forrest, McGregor (Rogic 75), Sinclair; Griffiths (Hayes 67)
    Not Used: De Vries, Ajer, Ralston, Kouassi

    HEARTS (4-5-1) Hamilton; Smith, Hughes, Berra, Grzelak (Gonvalves 69); Brandon, Cowie, Bauben (Randall 62), Djoum, Moore; Lafferty (Sammon 71)
    Not Used: Noring, Souttar, Nowak, Martin

    Website Man of the Match: Leigh Griffiths


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