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

Hearts 0 - 2 Celtic

CELTIC subjected Hearts to a Boxing Day bashing-up. Aiden McGeady and Stilian Petrov extended the champions' advantage at the top of the Bank of Scotland Premierleague to four points, pending the outcome of Rangers' match with Motherwell today. Yet, it was the physical supremacy of John Hartson and Chris Sutton that proved decisive.

In a bruising encounter, none endured as much punishment as Steven Pressley. The Hearts captain took a relentless beating as Celtic's talismen took it in turns to torment. Kevin McKenna, Pressley's defensive partner, succumbed to the intimidation and, frankly, cowered.

So much for the season of goodwill. The undercurrent of bile took various manifestations, all of them equally unpalatable. The ritual abuse of Neil Lennon at Tynecastle is second only to his treatment at Ibrox. Yesterday, he had a rival for the unwanted attention in McGeady.

There is an obvious religious strand to the taunts decrying a natural-born Scot for electing to choose the Republic of Ireland. Again, he was invited to explain his decision, one taken long before his rise to prominence, but conceded he had not been fully prepared for the extent of the condemnation.

"There was a lot of verbal abuse and I heard a lot of various things said. I suppose the important thing is not to take it to heart but I hadn't really thought about until it started happening," he said. "It could have been different had I been able to play schoolboy football for Scotland but I made my mind up at 15.

"I suppose it is a form of flattery but it's not as bad as the abuse Neil Lennon gets."

Riled by the injustice of it all, Celtic's travelling band lapsed into unsavoury chorus themselves, while one Hearts punter was hastily ejected for hurling the ball in the direction of Bobo Baldé. On the field, the aggression was more controlled, but only just.

Mark de Vries attempted to impose himself in similar style to Sutton and Hartson. The Dutchman, though, was bereft of a regular partner and also had to contend with the brawny combination of Baldé and Stan Varga. He was booked for diving near the end as Hearts claimed for a penalty and while John Robertson, having studied Setanta evidence, felt aggrieved, such fate sums up his lucklessness upon returning to Gorgie Road.

Hearts' European foray has deflected attention from their slip down the Premierleague pecking order to fifth. Less than two months since leaving Inverness, Robertson approaches his first crossroads as head coach. Fourteen of his first-team squad are out of contract next summer – de Vries, Pressley, Alan Maybury and Phil Stamp prominent among them – and with the takeover by Vladimir Romanov not due to be completed until February, Robertson expressed his frustration at the current state of flux.

With the transfer window about to reopen, who is his point of contact for transfer budget? "You tell me," he replied bluntly. "I speak to the chief executive [Chris Robinson] then I am pulled in by the Lithuanians. I don't know if the new board or the old board are dealing with it but I need to know soon because the cracks are beginning to appear and the players are being distracted by the uncertainty."

At least Pressley has intimated his desire to remain at the club. "We need to be united, whether we have a future or not," he said. "The club have indicated they want me to stay and I'm happy with that."

He was a central figure in a hideous yet thoroughly engrossing encounter. Hearts were knocked out of kilter after only nine minutes, when McGeady tiptoed into the box and converted Petrov's cross-goal pass at the stretch. The sense of foreboding intensified shortly after, when the rejuvenated Michael Stewart limped off gingerly as a consequence of a groin strain. They were in the wars, all right, but many of their wounds were self-inflicted. Plunged into a panic by Hartson and Sutton, Hearts' general defending was suicidal.

The improved markably in the second half but were simply sparring partners in a catchweight contest. Petrov's poise and purpose was the ideal complement to the attacking pillars. As well as engineering the opener, he completed the scoring in fine style and earned deserved plaudits from his manager for such industry.

"He was outstanding for us," he said, after concluding negotiations with the Bulgaria manager, Hristo Stoichkov, to excuse Petrov from a bizarre international friendly against a Spanish regional select side, Valenciana. Robert Douglas made his first league start of the season after Magnus Hedman called off ill but rarely had his prolonged inactivity questioned by Hearts. De Vries was too often a lonely figure, with Dennis Wyness anonymity acted on swiftly by Robertson. By the end, Jamie McAllister and Joe Hamill were thrown further

forward but to no avail. Paul Hartley, their outstanding performer this season, was subdued by Lennon and Hearts lacked a creative force in the Petrov mould to aid the forlorn De Vries. Hartson and Sutton, meanwhile, had a field day.

"As a pair they are very tough to try to stop," said Robertson ruefully. "We did compete in terms of commitment and effort but when you play the Old Firm you need a bit of luck as well."

Fortune has been a rare commodity at Tynecastle recently. No sooner had Hearts discovered a semblance of rhythm in the second half, they found themselves two goals down. Pressley was booked for fouling Sutton near the touchline and from the resultant free kick, Hartson beat the captain to the header. Sutton collected the ball inside the box and cut back for Petrov to thud home.

Celtic will bring in the New Year top of the league and there was no disguising O'Neill's satisfaction. "We played great. Hearts were not at their best today but the second goal was still most welcome for us," he said.

Hearts (4-4-3) Gordon; Neilson, McKenna, Pressley, Maybury; Stewart (Macfarlane 12), Stamp, Hartley, McAllister (Weir 73); de Vries, Wyness (Hamill 57). Subs Not Used: Moilanen, Pereira, Janczyk, Berra

Booked MacFarlane, Pressley, de Vries, Weir

Celtic (4-4-3)Douglas; McNamara, Baldé, Varga, Laursen; Petrov, Lennon, Thompson, McGeady; Hartson, Sutton Subs: Marshall, Juninho, Lambert, Camara, Maloney, Wallace, McManus. Booked Hartson

Referee Mike McCurry

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