London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2004-05--> All for 20041226
<-Page <-Team Sun 26 Dec 2004 Hearts 0 Celtic 2 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth Mike Aitken auth-> Mike McCurry
[A McGeady 9] ;[S Petrov 68]
8 of 010 ----- L SPL H

Celtic shape up for New Year challenges

O’Neill’s side appear re-invigorated in Tynecastle victory as their fluency returns in time for an SPL title fight


Hearts 0
Celtic 2 McGeady (9), Petrov (68)
Referee: M McCurry. Attendance: 16,163

CELTIC gave the clearest indication yet against Hearts yesterday that they will be far less vulnerable on the domestic front in the second half of the season than they were in the autumn. Stronger, more determined and far more imaginative than Hearts, Martin O’Neill’s players won a potentially awkward encounter in Edinburgh much more easily than they could have hoped. If John Hartson, who drew a blank when he could have scored a hat-trick, had performed to anything like his normal standard then Hearts would have suffered even more severe punishment.

If there was a sluggishness about Celtic when they combined duties in Europe with commitments at home, this lively effort from Martin O’Neill’s men suggested that the champions will be much more energetic and single minded as 2005 beckons. Inspired by a wonderfully mobile and tenacious display from Chris Sutton in attack as well as influential contributions from Neil Lennon in midfield and Stanislav Varga at the back, Celtic looked as if they were running on a new set of batteries at Tynecastle.

Hearts, on the other hand, found it impossible to create chances against a compact Celtic defence. John Robertson’s players created few chances from open play. Willing enough in terms of effort, there was little sign of imagination in Hearts’ attacking efforts. The combination of a lack of width and too many long balls meant Hearts were second best for long spells in this game.

That said, credit should be given to Celtic for their strengths rather than the weaknesses in what was a disappointing Hearts effort. If the presence of Rab Douglas in goal for the first time in an SPL game since March lent Celtic’s defence an unfamiliar look as they subdued a typically heated start to the game by their hosts, it was the hallmark of the champions that they should get their noses in front in a game they dominated with a superbly well worked goal on the counter-attack after nine minutes of nip-and-tuck action.

With Jamie McAllister off the pitch receiving treatment, there was a vulnerability about Hearts down their left side as Sutton won the ball and Jackie McNamara supplied the pass for Stilian Petrov, who made a thrilling break beyond the defensive cover. Although the Bulgarian’s cross initially appeared over-hit, Aiden McGeady showed wonderful balance and composure at the back post before steering the ball past Craig Gordon.

Once McAllister was restored to the fold, Hearts must have felt doubly disappointed that the left side of their defence continued to look so vulnerable. The league leaders should have been two ahead after 15 minutes when Alan Thomson unexpectedly popped up on the right wing and turned onto his favoured left foot. The cross left Hearts exposed and presented Hartson with a much easier goalscoring opportunity than the one tucked away by McGeady. The Welsh striker was slipshod and missed the target.

Although Hearts tried to claw their way back into the contest - the loss of Michael Stewart through injury after 12 minutes undoubtedly disrupted the flow of their play - there was no disputing the reality that Celtic were the sharper, more incisive outfit. It was O’Neill’s side which continued to create the better chances. The combination of Hartson and Sutton breached Hearts down their right flank after 25 minutes and only another weak finish from Petrov let the home side off the hook.

After half and hour, no neutral would have quibbled if Celtic had led by three goals. Hearts struggled to gain parity in midfield where both McAllister and Denis Wyness (who operated more like an attacking midfielder than a striker) were guilty of squandering possession. Apart from McAllister’s fierce free-kick, which Douglas did well to clutch, the home side offered little that was threatening.

It was a lack of inspiration rather than perspiration which held back Hearts as Stamp and McAllister switched flanks. Playing 4-5-1 when Celtic had the ball and 4-3-3 when possession came their way, Hearts’ problem before the interval was that Stamp and McAllister lacked ingenuity in attack. If they were going to set Celtic a fresh set of problems in the second half, Hearts needed better support for De Vries.

If there was no questioning Hearts’ eagerness in the second half of a game which continued to be played at a high tempo, it was Celtic who had the quality in the final third of the field. Thoughtful as well as strong, Sutton set up chances for both McGeady and Hartson. If the youngster’s drive into the side netting from the edge of the box was understandably wayward, the Welshman’s weak finish with his left boot was curiously unconvincing.

Aware that plan A wasn’t working, John Robertson sent on Joe Hamill after 57 minutes and withdrew Wyness. This meant Stamp could fill the deeper role in midfield and leave Hartley free to operate, in the terminology of another age, as an inside forward rather than a wing-half. When De Vries managed to get the better of Balde, it was Hartley in 64 minutes who ran towards the 18-yard line and produced Hearts’ first direct shot at goal from open play.

When De Vries followed up that effort by collecting a pass from Neil MacFarlane and getting too much weight underneath a 20-yard shot, it was the first sign Hearts might be able to piece together a sustained passage of pressure. This turned out to be a mirage, however, as Celtic served a reminder of their potency at set-pieces.

If Pressley felt aggrieved to be booked for an innocuous challenge, worse was to follow for the home side as Ulrik Laursen’s free-kick was again won in the air by Sutton. This time Petrov was the player feeding off the Englishman’s determination. The Bulgarian’s ferocious right-foot drive into the roof of the net gave Gordon no chance and clinched a comfortable victory.

Celtic looked certain to add a third goal in the 89th minute through Hartson’s powerful shot, but Hamill made a superb headed clearance on the line.

Hearts: Gordon, Neilson, McKenna, Pressley, Maybury, Stewart (MacFarlane 12), Stamp, Hartley, McAllister (Weir 73), de Vries, Wyness (Hamill 57). Subs not used: Moilanen, Pereira, Janczyk.

Celtic: Douglas, McNamara, Balde, Varga, Laursen, Petrov, Lennon, Thompson, McGeady, Hartson, Sutton. Subs Not Used: Marshall, Juninho, Lambert, Camara, Maloney, Wallace, McManus. Booked: Hartson.

Taken from the Scotsman

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