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Craig Levein <-auth Graham Spiers auth-> Mike McCurry
[H Larsson pen 41]
2 of 002 -----L SPL H

Agathe injury real pain as Celtic head for Spain Fuller and Tynecastle colleagues give Levein encouragement that he can work with raw material

Graham Spiers

19 Nov 2001

Hearts 0 Celtic 1 at Tynecastle

In the tight cockpit called Tynecastle, most things just seem a blaze of physical expression.

After this robust match you were left wondering which type of challenge Celtic might prefer: the more sophisticated foe that awaits them in Spain this week or the sort of com-bative stuff witnessed here.

Valencia represent a tall order, but Hearts, in a troubled time of reassessment in Gorgie, are willing to break skin and bone for Craig Levein.

Celtic, scars and all, emerged with their points.

Martin O'Neill yesterday was weighing up his chances of catching flights via Brussels, Madrid, and Valencia in order to watch Celtic's UEFA Cup opponents draw 0-0 at home in the Spanish league against Tenerife.

Little wonder he ducked out of that one, sending his chief scout instead.

After this teeming affair, few could blame O'Neill for wanting Sabbath rest.

His team, like their opponents, limped away from Tynecastle exhausted, with one of them, Didier Agathe, needing crutches.

Agathe, lithe and aggressive as usual, once more was central to the game's turning point.

The pace and cunning with which he duped Andy Webster into crunching down on him in the penalty box may have earned Celtic their win, but it cost the winger dear.

With a traumatised ligament, he is one man who certainly won't be flying anywhere this week.

''Didier's knee is swollen on both sides and he could be out for some time,'' O'Neill said.

''He is having a scan today and we are due to get the results tomorrow.'' However, the club are ''hopeful'' that Belgian defender Joos Valgaeren will travel to Spain after missing Saturday's win with a knee injury.

This was Celtic's tenth successive SPL win, allegedly a record, although there was some squabbling over this yesterday.

It did, though, prove that O'Neill's Celtic have remarkable durability.

Much as they won, it is hard to recall the visitors keeping up much shelling of Antti Niemi's goal, although in Paul Lambert and Neil Lennon, Celtic are adept at drawing the sting of their opponents.

Lennon is not one of the world's great athletes but his happy waddling back and forth with a ball is a huge frustration to the opposition.

Told of his 10 wins on the trot, O'Neill looked distinctly underwhelmed.

You get the impression this manager knows his value will be judged by higher accolades and one of these will be in the process of being formed in Spain on Thursday night.

The European arena is where O'Neill and Celtic now mark their own card, and O'Neill posted an apology in advance.

''Today's match didn't flow and we're obviously not at our best,'' he said.

''The Champions League was a great experience for all of us, but I think you can see how it has left its mark physically and mentally.'' The one man, as usual, exempt from this, was Henrik Larsson.

This hungry, football-famished Swede has the fleetness of a greyhound on the field, not content to rest on his own impressive credentials, but tearing all over the park in pursuit of lost causes.

On countless occasions on Saturday Larsson burrowed behind opponents, leaving young and fit Hearts defenders astonished at his tenacity.

The supreme lesson of Larsson to any young wannabe is his principle of wanting to prove himself anew with each fresh match.

The match was no masterpiece but it was still strangely engrossing.

Hearts, after their sterling efforts against Dundee last week, went at Celtic with the vengeance of players sick to the back teeth of being disparaged as no-hopers.

In Steven Pressley, Kevin McKenna, Stephen Simmons, Andy Maybury, and Ricardo Fuller, Levein certainly has hope for the future.

Pressley is in danger of joining a memorable list of Hearts captains, a player who has grown in stature well beyond his modest playing means, leading and tackling by example.

When Juanjo left Hearts, a certain conceit and arrogance also departed, but Pressley poss- esses what every captain requires, which is that air of contagious confidence.

If the marvellously agile Niemi can also remain in Edinburgh, all the better for Levein.

This was a defeat for Hearts from which, as their manager said later, all sorts of positives could be plucked.

In Fuller, Hearts have a less gifted, though similarly-minded spirit, when compared to Lars-son.

Fuller may have legs that resemble gnarled branches of trees, with these nobbly knees, but his appetite and skill are becoming more obvious with each game.

When the match was in its death-throes he embarked on one of his spectacular runs, slaloming past defenders before forcing Douglas to crouch and save.

Levein looks justified in thinking there is raw material here with which to work.

A game of gruelling effort was transformed with a penalty to Celtic after 42 minutes.

Poor Webster, young and impressionable, should have won possession when confronting Agathe, but the winger's turn of pace dumbfounded the defender, who was left lunging clumsily.

Agathe, as a result, was to limp away from this match for good at half-time.

By that point, the indulgent Larsson had already whipped his pen-alty beyond Niemi.

Taken from the Herald

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