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|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 16 Oct 2004 Celtic 3 Hearts 0||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Report||Type->||Srce->|
|Craig Levein||<-auth||None||auth->||Kenny Clark|
|[H Camara 41] ;[J Giroldo) 56] ;[J Hartson 82]|
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Elvis sings blues as Hearts look out of tune at Parkhead
IFS and might-have-beens abound in sport as teams reflect on how better luck would have benefited their causes.
Hearts were left to wonder as much after Saturday’s trip to Parkhead where Steven Pressley’s first competitive penalty miss eventually saw the champions complete a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Trailing by two goals with just over 20 minutes of the match remaining, the visitors were awarded a spot-kick after Jackie McNamara was deemed to have handled Phil Stamp’s attempted cross into the area - referee Kenny Clark failed to notice it but stand side assistant Tom Murphy, who had earlier incensed the visitors with some dodgy offside calls, flagged for the infringement.
Outplayed up to that point, it was the perfect opportunity for the Jambos to throw themselves an unlikely lifeline and launch a late bid to rescue a point.
Normally so reliable in such situations, the skipper, who had declared himself fit for the game after missing both of Scotland’s World Cup qualifiers against Norway and Moldova with a virus, duly shouldered the responsibility again. With a dozen consecutive conversions already to his name at Hearts since slotting his first one back in February 2002 at Kilmarnock, the small band of travelling fans primed themselves to celebrate another success.
Pressley’s confidently struck shot, though, glanced off the outside of David Marshall’s right-hand post and out for a goal-kick and with it went any hopes of a point.
Such was the dominance enjoyed by the champions it is open to conjecture whether Craig Levein’s side would have gone on to snatch a draw.
But having shown remarkable resilience in refusing to accept defeat over the last few seasons - late goals have been a trademark of Levein’s side - had Pressley scored there at least would have been a platform to stage a rousing finale.
Eight minutes after the penalty miss, half-time substitute Kevin McKenna - the Canadian had replaced Graham Weir - had a good chance to pull one back but his shot from Paul Hartley’s beautifully weighted pass lacked sufficient power and angle to beat Marshall.
Celtic rubbed salt into the visitors’ wounds by wrapping up victory with 81 minutes on the clock, John Hartson bulleting home a header from Ross Wallace’s cross after Craig Gordon had saved well from Juninho’s shot.
While wondering what may have been had Pressley’s shot gone the other side of the upright, Hearts would have required more than just luck to deny the champions. As Levein had stressed in the build-up, it is easy to talk a good game against Celtic - actually producing the goods when it matters is the difficult part and Hearts had Gordon to thank for keeping the margin of defeat down to three.
The youngster was, somewhat unfairly, made the scapegoat for the defeat by Norway at Hampden after his misjudgement of a cross led to the James McFadden handball incident and penalty winner.
On Saturday, though, he silenced those critics with an excellent performance, his wonder stop from Hartson’s second-half header a contender for save of the season.
To have a chance of taking anything from a game against Martin O’Neill’s side, teams have to be on top of their game, particularly at Parkhead. When basic mistakes play into the hands of the Glasgow giants there is only going to be one outcome.
The Jambos were battling hard to claw their way back into proceedings after falling behind to Henri Camara’s 41st-minute opener - which had a hint of offside about it - when they pressed the self-destruct button.
In attempting to launch an attack 12 minutes after the break, Michael Stewart needlessly gave away possession to Stan Varga on the half-way line and in the blink of an eye the Gorgie outfit found themselves two behind.
The defender wasted little time in finding Brazilian playmaker Juninho, who pressed forward before playing a one-two with Hartson on the edge of the box and slotting a shot behind Gordon.
Levein had already made his planned hasty exit and was on his way back along the M8 to catch his flight from Edinburgh to Paris en route to yesterday’s Dutch first division match between Roda and Thursday’s UEFA Cup opponents Feyenoord.
It was probably just as well for the on-loan star as it is anyone’s guess what his manager would have had to say to him after his error. It was therefore left to No.2 Peter Houston to berate the player from the sidelines - and ten minutes later he was withdrawn from the action with Dennis Wyness entering the fray up front alongside McKenna.
Stewart was by no means the only Jambo to fail to fire on all cylinders but his cardinal sin was typical of the visitors’ display up to that point, Hearts asking for trouble by being unable to retain possession for any length of time.
"We were obviously disappointed with the result. I thought we were poor in the first half and gave the ball away too cheaply," said Houston.
"We also lost possession at their second goal. We were attacking when Michael Stewart gave the ball away and they broke up the park and scored.
"But we put two up front after that and enjoyed our best spell of the game. We got the penalty but it is difficult to criticise Elvis as he has been very reliable from the spot and hadn’t missed one before Saturday. Who knows, it may have changed it had we been able to get back into the match.
"I am not saying we would have, but we would have had the chance to get something out of the game. Elvis was sick about it, naturally. He thought he let the guys down but he has scored a lot of important ones for us and we’re not going to criticise him for it."
Fortunately for Hearts, they have precious little time to dwell on Saturday’s disappointment with the Rotterdam showdown looming in three days time.
Ruud Gullit’s polished outfit will provide the Jambos with their sternest test of the season to date and Houston knows there will be a problem in the De Kuip Stadium if the performance doesn’t improve.
"Celtic are a good side and knocked the ball about well," he said. "We will need to do better in Holland as Feyenoord will be every bit as good as Celtic. They will keep the ball and we will not be able to sit in and defend all the time.
"We will have to try to release players forward and play up the park a bit more. We sat in too much at times on Saturday and it cost us with Celtic punishing us with their quality.
"I think Thursday will be a similar game and we will have to keep the ball better when we have possession, which to be fair to the players, they did in Braga in the last round."
|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 16 Oct 2004 Celtic 3 Hearts 0||Team->||Page->|