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Craig Levein <-auth Lisa Gray auth-> Mike McCurry
[H Larsson pen 41]
1 of 002 ----- L SPL H

Hearts 0 Celtic 1

By Lisa Gray, PA Sport

A late first-half penalty taken by Henrik Larsson allowed Celtic to maintain a healthy seven-point gap at the top of the Scottish Premier League table.

For their part, nearest rivals Rangers managed a convincing win against Dunfermline but Larsson's solitary goal against Hearts means that the Parkhead side remain very much in the driving seat.

Like Celtic's other recent league games this was a closely-fought affair and Hearts had chances early on to win the game.

But referee Mike McCurry ruled that Didier Agathe had been brought down in the box by Andy Webster and Larsson tied up the points - and the win - when he converted from the spot just before the break.

Hearts may have endured difficult times on and off the park recently but they had obviously been boosted by their win against Dundee last week as they dominated the opening spell of the game.

In fact the Jambos could have been ahead a minute into the game when Ricardo Fuller released Stephane Adam in the box but, before the Hearts striker could pull the trigger, Bobo Balde managed to intercept the move.

Six minutes later a Stephen Simmons' free-kick picked out Fuller a few yards out from goal but, again, Balde was alert enough to clear the danger.

But despite such a promising start from the Tynecastle side, Celtic were always going to prove dangerous and, as the game wore on, they increasingly looked like the side that would open the scoring.

After 16 minutes Stilian Petrov curled a free-kick into the area, picking out Johan Mjallby, who nodded the ball onto Larsson but Hearts goalkeeper Antti Niemi easily held the Swede's header.

Almost immediatley they were threatening again when Stephen Crainey floated a long ball to Balde a few yards out but the big defender failed to connect properly with the header.

The ball fell to the feet of Chris Sutton on the edge of the 18-yard box but he could not produce enough power from the shot to trouble Niemi.

Crainey is widely regarded as being an important player for the future for Celtic but he had won his place in the starting-line up as a result of Joos Valgaeren's knee injury - and it was the Hoops kid who almost grabbed the opener after 32 minutes.

Petrov played a corner kick out to Crainey and his 20-yard drive looked goalbound until Simmons managed to deflect the effort clear.

Two minutes later though the Hoops had to rely on goalkeeper Rab Douglas to keep the scoreline level.

A bizarre mis-kick from Alan Maybury fell into the path of Kevin McKenna and caught the Celtic defence off-guard.

The Canadian produced a superb volley and he was only denied by an equally impressive save from Douglas who only just managed to tip the ball over the crossbar.

But it was Celtic who took the lead just five minutes before the break when Webster was judged to have brought down Agathe in the area.

The referee immediately pointed to the spot and Larsson duly converted from 12 yards.

Celtic were visibly lifted by their opener late in the first half and they immediately set about trying to add to that after the restart.

A Petrov corner found Larsson at the far post and the striker could have added to his own tally with a header from just a couple of yards out but he nodded just over the crossbar after 50 minutes.

But just three minutes later Hearts had the chance to draw level. Mjallby brought down Fuller right on the edge of the box. McKenna took the free-kick but his shot deflected off Paul Lambert.

Agathe had picked up an injury during the challenge that won Celtic their earlier penalty and had been replaced by Alan Thompson at half-time and he could have made an impact after 64 minutes.

Petrov squared the ball across the face of goal to Thompson who was just six yards out but Pressley managed to block the pass and deny Celtic the opportunity to extend their lead.

But Hearts were still pushing for the leveller and that could have come courtesy of former Celtic man Stephane Mahe.

Fuller went on a great run before laying the ball off to the Frenchman who unleashed a shot from the corner of the box but Mjallby managed to clear.

As the game entered the final 15 minutes only a fine save from Niemi prevented Hearts from falling further behind.

Mjallby went on a great run, taking the ball round several Hearts defenders, before trying to chip the ball into the top corner of the net only for the Finn to produce a dramatic save.

Celtic goalkeeper Douglas was not to be outdone and he blocked a Fuller header that seemed destined to find the back of the net with just 12 minutes to go.

He came to Celtic's rescue again to deny Fuller in the final minute of the game after the Hearts player had displayed amazing skill before unleashing the shot.


Hearts: Niemi, Webster, Maybury, Mahe, Pressley, Fulton, Simmons, Adam (Wales 80), Gronlund (Kirk 88), Fuller, McKenna.

Subs Not Used: McKenzie, McCann, Davidson.

Celtic: Douglas, Balde, Mjallby, Crainey, Lambert, Petta, Agathe (Thompson 45), Lennon, Petrov, Larsson, Sutton.

Subs Not Used: Gould, Hartson, Moravcik, Maloney.

Booked: Lennon, Thompson.

Goals: Larsson 44 pen.

Att: 15,570

Ref: M McCurry (Scotland).

Taken from

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