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|<-Page||<-Team||Wed 26 Jan 2011 Celtic 4 Hearts 0||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Daily Record ------ Report||Type->||Srce->|
|Jim Jefferies 2nd||<-auth||Keith Jackson||auth->||Euan Norris|
|[J Forrest 7] ;[A Stokes 53] ;[A Stokes 71] ;[P McCourt 80]|
|7||of 009||-----||L SPL||A|
SPL: Celtic 4 Hearts 0
Jan 27 2011 By Keith Jackson
THEY came, they saw, they crumbled. And by the end of a traumatic 90 minutes in Glasgow's East End, Hearts had lost the look of credible title challengers.
This was not simply a defeat for a Tynecastle outfit which has fought so furiously to drag itself into contention and, after grinding out a win over Rangers at the weekend, appeared to have set up a thrilling three-way fight to the line.
No, it was worse than that. It was a painful, pride-swallowing pasting from a group of Celtic players who seemed hellbent on teaching them a lesson.
Neil Lennon's men were in front early on through a thunderous strike from James Forrest and although Hearts clung on for a while they were thoroughly taken apart in a second-half capitulation.
Anthony Stokes netted twice for the rampant home side before Paddy McCourt rubbed salt into gaping maroon wounds with the goal that heaped on the humiliation.
This was not how Jim Jefferies had planned it. It was not what the rest of the Scottish game had been hoping for either.
But the reality this morning is that after sprinting on to the shoulders of the big two Hearts are now 10 points adrift of the league leaders and one more defeat away from disappearing almost completely out of sight.
Again Lennon shuffled his pack. Charlie Mulgrew came in as expected for the injured Daniel Majstorovic but there were also changes in the midfield with McCourt and Niall McGinn losing out to Joe Ledley and Forrest.
This was very quickly to look like a managerial masterstroke as young Forrest - surprisingly deployed on the left flank - smashed the home side into a quickfire lead.
In fact, this rejigged Celtic side were well worth their early breakthrough. Lennon's men came racing out of the traps seeking to establish their superiority in a hurry and had Hearts keeper Marian Kello flapping as early as the second minute when he was forced to claw out an inswinging Mulgrew corner from under his bar.
Celtic were bright, dynamic and on the front foot and when Forrest smashed his way through with the game only seven minutes old they appeared to seize complete control.
It was a special goal too, the youngster cleverly shifting the ball on to his left foot after being picked out superbly by the surging Scott Brown, who had galloped 30 yards across a startled looking Hearts defence to shuttle the ball over from the right flank.
Having made half a yard with his first touch Forrest then let fly and seemed to catch Kello by surprise. By the time the keeper had reacted Forrest's scorcher was already into the roof of the net.
This was the perfect nerve-settling start for a Celtic side that has so often been hamstrung by anxiety on home turf. If truth be told it was all going a little too smoothly. Cue the entrance of the panto villains, those dastardly men in black from the SFA.
It was the turn of Euan Norris to take centre stage last night. The locals had made up their minds about him from the moment he flashed a yellow card at Mark Wilson after the Celtic full-back chopped clumsily into the back of Rudi Skacel.
From that moment on almost every call Norris or his helpers made against the home side was greeted with howls of fury which at times verged on the hysterical.
Of far greater concern, though, was the hamstring tweak that forced youngster Forrest to limp off midway through the half.
After a hugely impressive start the unfortunate teenager had his place taken by McCourt. And as this little buzzbomb left the arena Hearts had time to gulp in extra supplies of oxygen and regroup.
From that point on they tried to make a game of it.
Within seconds of the substitution Ryan Stevenson had nudged a delightful flick into the path of Stephen Elliott and the little striker was scuttling in behind Celtic's defence for the first time. Elliott flashed the ball across the face of goal but found no takers at the back post.
Skacel had also taken it upon himself to get into the thick of it. The Czech worked the home crowd into a frenzy by deliberately getting in the faces of their favourites and then sought retribution on Wilson, going in heavily on the full-back in front of the dugouts.
The supporters' seething reaction pretty much demanded that Skacel became the second player booked.
But Norris was being bawled out again soon after when he yellow-carded Emilio Izaguirre after the Honduran had gone into a tackle on Skacel with a high boot.
Yes, it was all boiling over nicely.
Which was more than could be said for the match itself. Ledley did come close though when he smashed one over the top after Kello had got caught out racing from his box to deal with a ball he ought to have left alone.
And on the stroke of half-time Skacel forced Fraser Forster into his first save but it was comfortable enough for the Englishman who got down easily to clutch the long-range effort on one knee.
Then, just seconds after the interval, Gary Hooper raced clear on to a long ball and fired for goal, forcing Kello into a decent stop at his left.
In fact this was a fabulous chance for Hooper, who had caught Hearts cold, to deliver a knockout blow but it had gone almost as quickly as it had arrived.
Down on the sidelines Lennon punched a hole in the air in frustration. He need not have worried though because the comfort of a 2-0 lead was merely being delayed.
It came in 50 minutes courtesy of a delightful dead-ball strike from Stokes who curled a free-kick in at Kello's right-hand post from 25 yards without the keeper even getting close.
But if that sublime Stokes effort had ended this match as a contest the bad-tempered snarling was only just beginning.
Four minutes later all hell was threatening to break loose when Ian Black appeared to aim a kick at the grounded McCourt.
It was nasty and unnecessary and quickly led to a full-scale flashpoint as players from both sides came careering over to the scene, arms flailing and faces twisted.
When order was finally restored Black was lucky only to be booked, Celtic skipper Brown was unfortunate to receive the same punishment and Stokes and Marius Zaliukas - who had been spotted jostling by a linesman - took the total card count for the night to seven.
Hearts boss Jefferies shrewdly removed Black from the action soon after as part of a double substitution that also saw the frustrated David Templeton given the hook for the second successive match.
On came David Obua and Suso Santana but Hearts were now coming apart at the seams.
And they were ripped to pieces in 72 minutes when Hooper and Stokes tag-teamed to bag a third Celtic goal.
It was all so easy too as Beram Kayal split the visitors open with a simple through ball. While Hearts looked longingly for a flag Hooper and Stokes raced through on Kello.
The Englishman almost miscontrolled on his way into the box but steadied himself then tricked the keeper with a stepover.
Kello came crashing out to send Hooper sprawling but before ref Norris had time to blow for a penalty Stokes was on hand to pounce on the ball and bury it from a couple of yards out.
Some of Jefferies' players looked ready to head for home right then. But their suffering was not over yet.
In 80 minutes they conceded a fourth when McCourt cut inside on to a loose ball and lashed a left-foot drive in at Kello's right-hand post from 20 yards.
Rampant Stokes could even have made it 5-0 late on when he sliced a shot over with Kello and Hearts at his mercy.
Taken from the Daily Record
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