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|<-Page||<-Team||Wed 26 Jan 2011 Celtic 4 Hearts 0||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Report||Type->||Srce->|
|Jim Jefferies 2nd||<-auth||Stephen Halliday||auth->||Euan Norris|
|[J Forrest 7] ;[A Stokes 53] ;[A Stokes 71] ;[P McCourt 80]|
|5||of 009||-----||L SPL||A|
Anthony Stokes deals double blow to Hearts' title hopes
Published Date: 27 January 2011
By Stephen Halliday
at Celtic Park
CELTIC last night delivered a ruthless and devastating response to the notion of Hearts upsetting the natural order of Scottish football this season. In a compelling statement of their championship winning intent, Neil Lennon's team simply overwhelmed the Tynecastle side with a performance brimful of attacking vibrancy.
In suffering their first defeat in 12 SPL matches, Hearts failed abjectly to live up to the standards they had set on the remarkable run which had prompted so much talk of a three-horse pursuit of the title.
Their race may not necessarily be run just yet, but this was a sobering reality check which leaves them trailing leaders Celtic by ten points, albeit with a game in hand. For Lennon, the challenge facing him seems to remain a familiar one, however, as they protect a five points lead over champions Rangers, who have played two games fewer.
The outcome last night was never in any real doubt once James Forrest gave Celtic a seventh minute lead before limping off, Anthony Stokes weighing in with a double before Paddy McCourt added a late flourish. Celtic are now unbeaten in 11 games since losing to Hearts a Tynecastle in November and are a side high on confidence.
Lennon's men had Hearts on the back foot as they opened up in purposeful mood. Marian Kello had to claw an inswinging Charlie Mulgrew corner kick from underneath his crossbar before Celtic captain Scott Brown cut inside from the right and flashed a shot wide of the Hearts goalkeeper's left hand post.
It was a measure of the faith Lennon has in Forrest's ability that he put him straight into his starting line-up following a one-match suspension. Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt dropped to the bench, with Ledley promoted along with Forrest.
Lennon's decision was vindicated spectacularly by Forrest's seventh minute goal. Brown fed the youngster on the left where he beat Hearts right-back Eggert Jonsson with ease before lashing in a left-foot shot which soared beyond Kello high to his right. While Kello may reflect he may have made a better attempt at keeping it out, it was a fine goal from Forrest nonetheless.
Hearts looked stunned and struggled to make any attacking headway of their own. Celtic were pressing the ball diligently, simply refusing to let the visitors settle into any kind of rhythm.
Forrest was denied a second goal when Kello dived at his feet to clutch a low cross from Anthony Stokes and Hearts' defending was of the desperate variety at times.
There was sympathetic applause from the home support when Forrest was forced to limp out of the action after just 24 minutes, apparently with a hamstring strain, but the Hearts defence would not lament his departure. The arrival of McCourt as his replacement, however, did not promise to make their task any less exacting.
The match was phsyically as competitive as would have been expected and there were occasional hints it could boil over, referee Euan Norris showing his yellow card to Mark Wilson, Rudi Skacel and Emilio Izaguirre as he tried to keep a lid on it.
Left-back Lee Wallace was Hearts most potent attacking weapon whenever they were able to force their way onto the front foot and they might have equalised eight minutes before half-time when he broke clear but was unable to pick out the unmarked Skacel with his low cross into the penalty area.
It would have been rough justice on Celtic had they not gone in ahead at the interval, however, and they almost doubled their lead in the 44th minute when Kello went walkabout outside his penalty area, the Slovakian going unpunished as Joe Ledley shot wide from 20 yards.
Hearts began the second half with Ruben Palazuelos on for Skacel, a decision doubtless influenced by the Czech midfielder's first half caution. But before Jefferies' men could achieve the kind of foothold in the match to encourage any hopes of recovery, they found themselves 2-0 behind. Kello had made a fine save to deny Hooper immediately after the restart but he was beaten comprehensively by Stokes' 50th minute goal which gave a truer reflection of the home team's dominance.
Ismael Bouzid halted Izaguirre's surging run with a blatant jersey pull just outside the penalty area. Stokes and Mulgrew both lurked over the free-kick, planting uncertainty in Kello's mind as to which corner of his net was being targeted. It was Stokes who curled a terrific right foot shot over the defensive wall and high beyond Kello's right hand into the roof of the net.
There remained a real edge to proceedings and there was mayhem in the 55th minute when Ian Black cynically fouled McCourt from behind. The Celtic players, led by Brown, reacted furiously and both assistant referees had to enter the field of play to assist Norris in preventing a mass brawl breaking out.
When order was restored, Black was cautioned for the challenge with Brown, Marius Zaliukas and Stokes also booked for their part in the aftermath.
Hooper blazed over from close range as Celtic continued to hem Hearts into their own half, prompting Jefferies into a double substitution which saw David Templeton and Black withdrawn and replaced by Suso Santana and David Obua.
The momentum of this match, however, was now beyond alteration. Celtic duly enhanced their superiority by scoring a third goal with 18 minutes remaining. Beram Kayal's perceptive through ball beat the Hearts offside trap, allowing Gary Hooper to race clear on goal. He knocked the ball beyond Kello and was taken down by the goalkeeper, but no penalty award was necessary as the ball rolled into the path of Stokes for a simple close range tap-in.
There was no let-up from Celtic and with Hearts now simply longing to hear the final whistle, McCourt scored the fourth in the 80th minute. Stokes fluffed a hat-trick chance with a fresh air swipe at Hooper's pass, but the ball ran into the path of McCourt who coolly swept a low shot beyond Kello from 18 yards.
Celtic: Forster, Wilson, Rogne, Mulgrew, Izaguirre, Forrest (McCourt 24), Brown, Kayal (Juarez 82), Ledley, Stokes, Hooper (Murphy 86). Subs not used: Zaluska, Ljungberg, McGinn, Carey.
Hearts: Kello, Jonsson, Bouzid, Zaliukas, Wallace, Mrowiec, Black (Obua 60), Elliott, Skacel (Palazuelos 46), Templeton (Santana 60), Stevenson. Subs not used: Balogh, Novikovas, Glen, C Thomson.
Taken from the Scotsman
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