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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Darryl Broadfoot auth-> Douglas McDonald
[C Killen 55] ;[G Loovens 93]
5 of 005 Suso Santana 5 L SPL A

Loovens brings harmony after fraught week with late goal

Darryl Broadfoot

Published on 20 Sep 2009

Inspiration arrived belatedly and in unconventional form for Celtic yesterday.

Glenn Loovens’ dramatic winner completed a jittery comeback against Heart of Midlothian and restored Celtic to the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table.

Yet the introduction of Niall McGinn was just as significant to the laborious unhinging of Hearts. The young winger was denied a legitimate penalty claim during a frenzied climax, when he appeared to be fouled by Lee Wallace, but his perseverance enabled Loovens to lump home a header amid a penalty box ruck.

It was a creditable patch-up job for Celtic, after Suso Santana beavered Hearts into an early and deserved lead. Chris Killen initiated a haphazard recovery, a defiant response to general apathy over his inclusion, but for Celtic this was a victory achieved almost in spite of themselves.

Loovens was considerably more effective and efficient in the opposition penalty area than he was protecting his own beside Gary Caldwell. The captain is in danger of earning himself a role as pantomime villain after airing his contractual wrangles in public, and at various stages seemed in danger of weakening his bargaining position as he toiled to contain Hearts’ counter-attacking thrusts.

Wallace and Steven Thomson, a pair of piston full-backs, were stand-outs for Hearts but too often their rapier moves were undermined by a habitually wasteful front line.

The mysterious disappearance of Landry N’Guemo is now becoming a matter of urgency for Tony Mowbray. The Cameroonian was hustled and harried by Michael Stewart and the undervalued Ruben Palazuelos throughout and the case for Barry Robson’s return is now compelling, despite the manager’s apparent satisfaction with his loan signing afterwards. Scott Brown was hardly a positive influence alongside him. The midfielder was slack in possession – a tendency that cost Celtic their early concession – and exerted none of the influence for which he is purportedly renowned.

At the peak of Celtic’s brittle spine, Scott McDonald experienced the kind of grotesque afternoon that can befall a player who is trying too hard. The Australian, who is in danger of becoming Celtic’s equivalent of Kris Boyd after his latest European omission, squandered a series of chances. Uncharacteristically, he showed less control than a tubby teenager in the Cadbury’s factory and looked as comfortable as Joe Calzaghe in ballroom sequins.

Throughout this turbulent 90 minutes, Tony Mowbray was the only man in the stadium not in a tizzy. The same, predictably, could not be said of Csaba Laszlo. The Hearts manager made a bee-line for Wallace at full time for allowing the ball to run out for the fateful corner, under the misconception his team would be awarded a goal kick.

McGinn’s auspicious cameo aside, only Fox and Aiden McGeady rose above the mediocrity for Celtic. The full-back’s deliveries were a persistent threat and deserved better execution, while McGeady decided he had little alternative but to try to turn the game on his own. Mowbray had effectively put an entire team on probation in the aftermath of a monotonous midweek defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv and until Loovens salvaged a win, the general performance looked condemnatory.

Hearts snatched an early goal through the enigmatic Suso Santana and they created enough chances to add further sheen to the scoreline. Alas, the old curse of an impotent strike force struck again.

The same could be said for the home side’s front men. A spate of injuries have exposed the flimsiness of Mowbray’s attacking options but the disjointedness did not end there. Stephen McManus, who only just made his return on Thursday, was demoted to accommodate the return of Caldwell to the defensive chores. The captain’s name was booed during the introduction and it was initially difficult to determine whether the reception was instigated by the former Hibernian player’s own supporters or the Hearts fans. That Scott Brown avoided a similar shrill cleared it up.

An edgy atmosphere was exacerbated by a Hearts sided keen to exert their physical superiority, especially in midfield. It was ironic, then, that it was the squat, swashbucking figure of Suso that would send Celtic Park to an awkward silence. Before anyone in green and white could claim an assured touch, Hearts had already compounded the Hapoel hangover.

Suso sped through traffic after a reckless pass from Brown, spun outside the 18-yard box and drilled a left-foot shot past a perplexed and slightly ill-positioned Artur Boruc. What followed was an anxiety-ridden sequence of calamities and melodramas and the general malaise translated into a persistent air of aggravation among a dissatisfied audience.

It is no exaggeration to suggest Celtic were lucky to avoid further damage before the interval, which made Mowbray’s optimism afterwards all the more unfathomable. In the frantic final moments of a grippingly unkempt first half, Boruc had to paw away a downward header from Jose Goncalves, while Caldwell swept the ball off the line after Andrew Driver raced clear only for his shot to be partly blocked by Boruc.

Mowbray remained the most relaxed man in the building. It a sanguine trait which grates with those who prefer to see a demonstrative despot in the technical area. Whatever calm and reasoned instructions were imparted during the 15-minute break had the desired effect. Celtic re-emerged with a pace and purpose that had been lost in transit on the flight to Israel. McGeady, exasperated by the dross around him, took matters into his own hands sand became a dazzling and dangerous presence.

Others tried to up their efforts. Killen and Maloney had efforts blocked directly from Fox’s cross but the New Zealander’s persistence would pay off. A speculative shot was waved away by Balogh and kept in by Maloney, whose cross was thudded home off Killen’s forehead.

Anxiety was instantly replaced by anticipation. McGeady, as though taking his cue from the stands, smacked the crossbar from 20 yards. McGinn was then introduced in place of a wabbit Shaun Maloney. By now, Hearts had ceased to operate as an attacking force. McDonald, enduring a galling afternoon, prodded off a post and with the goal at his mercy, Killen snatched embarrassingly at thin air. McDonald recovered but his near-post stab was slashed away by Thomson.

A diabolical unforced error from N’Guemo then presented Hearts with a rare sight of goal but David Obua’s outrageous attempt fizzed wide of Boruc’s goal. As stalemate beckoned, Loovens levered himself above the Hearts defence to redirect a McGeady header past Balogh.

Taken from the Herald

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