London Hearts Supporters Club

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John Robertson <-auth None auth-> Mike McCurry
[A McGeady 9] ;[S Petrov 68]
4 of 010 ----- L SPL H


Dec 27 2004

Hearts 0 Celtic 2 It's sunny side up for Celts as Petrov leaves Jambos out in cold after boss KOs Spain trip

By Neil Cameron

STILIAN PETROV last night thanked Martin O'Neill for cancelling his jaunt to the Spanish sunshine by scoring a wonder goal in what may well be a defining moment in the title race.

Whether the Bulgarian actually fancied a few days away from the Scottish winter to face Valenciana with his national side is up for debate.But, let's face it, most of us would.

However, O'Neill ensured his midfielder had only Celtic on his mind this Christmas and Petrov provided the knockout blow.

Petrov's superb second-half strike added to Aiden McGeady's early opener and meant O'Neill's team finish 2004 on top of the SPL. If Celtic win the title this game win will go down as one of the most crucial. Hearts contributed to an enthralling match but never looked like they were going to take anything on a day that would provide plenty of talking points. Not just on the field.

Hearts supporters' Boxing Day began with a report which claimed club chairman George Foulkes had written to the shareholders asking them to reject the proposed sale of Tynecastle.

That would have made the vast majority of fans happy,even if the delayed take-over of the club by Lithuanian tycoon Vladimir Romanov is making many of them feel uneasy.

But despite this sub-plot, we still had a game to be getting on with and one which had all the ingredients of a classic.And while there have been better spectacles it was always gripping stuff.

Both managers had their selection problems. For John Robertson, Phil Stamp and Kevin McKenna replaced the suspended Patrick Kisnorbo and Andy Webster.

O'Neill was forced into a keeper change with Rab Douglas coming in for an ill Magnus Hedman for what was his first SPL start this season, a reward also handed out to Ulrik Laursen.

The build-up was friendly enough. Hearts boss Robertson got a hug from John Hartson, Jackie McNamara took a call on a Hearts fan's mobile and the entire home dressing room presented a watch to their bus driver, the wonderfully-named Scoobie, for 22 years of service.

But when the game did start it was all blood and thunder and you just knew it was never going to be a 0-0. In fact, Celtic took just nine minutes to break the deadlock.

Petrov, looking as sharp as he has done in months, took control on the right wing and ran past Hearts players as if they weren't there, crossed to the back post where McGeady was in position to stick out his left foot and put the ball into the back of the net.

But just two minutes later McGeady almost cost his side when he handled the ball at the edge of the box and a free-kick was awarded. Jamie McAllister bent his left--foot drive around the wall but Douglas got that big frame of his down to deal with it.

Celtic should have made it 2-0 a minute later.

Again Petrov was the driving force with a surging run deep into Hearts territory. He slid a pass to Alan Thompson who switched the ball to his left foot and delivered a superb ball to Hartson.

But for once the big Welshman just couldn't hit the target with his first-time effort.

There was a personnel change in 12 minutes when Michael Stewart limped off with what looked a strain and was replaced by Neil MacFarlane but the frantic pace certainly didn't change.

Celtic had another golden opportunity in 24 minutes when Chris Sutton out-thought McKenna to find space in the box and send in a cross which Petrov me ton the volley. Fortunately for the stranded Craig Gordon, the ball trundled harmlessly wide.

Hearts did get on the ball more as the half progressed but didn't do enough to hurt Celtic. In truth, O'Neill's team should have been further ahead. As the team trudged off at the break we were all left wondering if they could keep up that pace in the second half. The answer was a resounding yes.

In the first five minutes Stamp had a a long-range effort deflected wide, Steven Pressley was forced into a last-gasp challenge to prevent Petrov scoring and McGeady shot over from outside the box.

In 53 minutes Hartson missed another chance you would expect him to do better with. McGeady's ball into the box was met by Sutton whose knock-down gave his striking partner a shot at goal which he completely miscued.

Petrov was next to miss.Sutton was again the provider when he set up the Bulgaria captain with a clean shot at goal which he blasted wide.

It was all Celtic but Paul Hartley gave the visitors a scare in 64 minutes with a blistering drive which flew just wide of goal.

Pressley got himself booked in 67 minutes for a tussle with Sutton but the Hearts skipper's day was just about to get a lot worse.

From that free-kick Laursen aimed a long ball to Sutton, who rose to head down for Petrov.

The midfielder met it on the half volley and sent an unstoppable shot into the top of the net.

Hartson eventually got booked for something like his 12th foul and Mark de Vries was yellow--carded for diving in the box.

Joe Hamill brilliantly headed a Hartson shot off the line and then the Welshman missed a sitter from six yards.

He would have been the only Celtic man unhappy with the day's work.

MAN OF THE MATCH Stilian Petrov (Celtic)

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