London Hearts Supporters Club

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John Robertson <-auth Simon Buckland auth-> Hugh Dallas
6 of 010 Lee Miller 8 ;Mark Burchill 19 L SPL A

Burchill haunts sorry Celtic

Simon Buckland at Celtic Park
SOMETHING was always going to have to give in this Premierleague title race, but nobody could have envisaged Celtic being as generous as this. Martin O’Neill, the club’s manager, always insists there is no such thing as a routine Premierleague fixture. He will take no pleasure in having been proved right here as Hearts claimed their first Parkhead win since February 5, 2000, when John Barnes — remember him? — was in charge of Celtic.

The standard gameplan for any team coming to Celtic Park is to avoid conceding in the first 20 minutes. Hearts had a more radical idea yesterday; not only did they prevent Celtic scoring, but they only went and scored twice themselves. There should have been time enough for Celtic to recover, but their oddly directionless players looked lost long before they were beaten. The 2002-03 season was decided on the final day, but its real turning point came several weeks earlier when Celtic were beaten 2-1 at Tynecastle. Might history have repeated itself yesterday?

The opener came in the eighth minute, Marius Kizys, the latest in a surprisingly impressive line of Lithuanians, produced a swerving free kick from the left that Andy Webster glanced goalwards. David Marshall, preferred to Magnus Hedman as the replacement for injured goalkeeper Robert Douglas, made an unconvincing stop and the ball looped kindly for Lee Miller to nod in from close range. That was Miller’s eighth goal since joining on loan from Bristol City, the only downside for Hearts being the potential transfer fee demanded seemingly rises with each one. “I need to slow down the scoring rate a bit,” quipped Miller. “It’s down to the clubs, but I’m happy to stay.” Hearts are believed to have had an offer of £175,000 rejected last week.

The pace of Craig Bellamy forced Steven Pressley and Robbie Neilson, virtual lookalikes, into identikit bookings as they hacked the on-loan Newcastle striker down as he surged by them on the left. The next chance of note also went to Hearts, though, albeit partly of Celtic’s making. A weak defensive header from Stephane Henchoz went straight to Miller and he quickly released Mark Burchill who, with the Celtic defence unable to recover their positions, had the time and space required to slot beyond Marshall with an angled drive. Burchill, who came through the ranks at Celtic, was surely not nurtured with such care to do this to them. This was an ironic afternoon to fulfil his potential. “From our point of view, not particularly brilliant goals to concede,” said O’Neill with bitter understatement.

Hartson had the ball in the net in the 23rd minute with a header, but the effort was disallowed, the whistle having gone before the Welsh international even met Alan Thompson’s free kick. In the 36th minute, O’Neill decided to haul off Henchoz before he did any more damage, moving Jackie McNamara back from midfield to defence and introducing Ross Wallace. The substitution looked inspired in the closing minute of the half when Bellamy slipped Wallace through on goal, but he dragged his shot badly wide for Hearts’ two-goal advantage to survive until the break. Brian Quinn, the Celtic chairman, was jeered during a half-time presentation. This really wasn’t the interval to make himself visible.

Celtic came out for the second half as if jet-propelled, but any new momentum could not be sustained. Long-range efforts from Stanislav Varga and Aiden McGeady were straight at Graig Gordon, while the Hearts goalkeeper was agile when tipping over Hartson’s close-range stab at a Thompson cross. Referee Hugh Dallas, determined to emphasise his neutrality at every opportunity, had made a great play of ushering Kizys off the field when the midfielder claimed an injury, but it wasn’t enough for Neil Lennon, who threw himself to the ground with all the melodrama he could muster when Hearts were awarded their next free kick upfield. It was the only smile the Celtic support got all afternoon.

That Hearts had as many of the second-half chances as Celtic demonstrated that this was by no means only a show of defence. In the 67th minute, Kizys burst clear down the left, but could not pop up with the finish, curling his strike the wrong side of the post. Substitute Calum Elliot almost found the impressive Miller with a square ball with 11 minutes to go, while a far post header from Webster was close to converting Joe Hamill’s free kick. In the 88th minute, one last chance for Celtic: Bobo Balde, of all people, on the right crossing for Bellamy at point-blank range. When he blazed over the fire went out of Celtic. “That’s the first time I thought we wouldn’t do it,” said O’Neill. “We probably needed to score with at least 10 minutes to go.” In the non-event, they didn’t score at all.

This much-talked about review of John Robertson’s position in the summer will result in an extended contract if there are many more afternoons like this. The Hearts manager would probably settle for just one: next Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against the same opposition at Hampden Park.

STAR MAN: Lee Miller (Hearts)

Player ratings. Celtic: Marshall 5, Henchoz 4 (Wallace 36min, 5), Balde 5, Varga 5, McNamara 6, Lennon 7, Petrov 5, Thompson 6, McGeady 6 (Maloney 67min, 6), Hartson 6, Bellamy 7

Hearts: Gordon 6, Neilson 7, Pressley 7, Webster 8, Wallace 7, Hamill 5, MacFarlane 6, Kizys 8 (Stewart 72min, 6), McAllister 7, Burchill 8 (Elliot 62min, 6), Miller 8

Booked: Pressley 10, Neilson 11, MacFarlane 23

Referee: H Dallas

Attendance: 59,562

Taken from

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