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John McGlynn <-auth auth-> Craig Thomson
[G Samaras 34]
10 of 018 -----L SPL A

Celtic 1 Hearts 0: Kris Commons turns on the style as Georgios Samaras strike sends Hoops top

DESPITE being snubbed by Scotland boss Craig Levein, the Celtic star yet again showed the national gaffer just what he'll be missing with another masterful performance.
Celtic star Kris Commons was on form against Hearts Celtic star Kris Commons was on form against Hearts

CRAIG LEVEIN may have given the Tartan Army what they wanted in Steven Fletcher.

But even if Scotland’s manager is now officially a man of the people he’s still lacking the Commons touch. And Celtic’s talisman seems hellbent on reminding him of it at every opportunity, like some sort of recurring match-winning menace.

Last weekend it was Motherwell, quickly followed by Moscow.

Yesterday, Commons returned to base to turn on another masterclass in precisely the kind of creativity and chance-making artistry on which an ace goalscorer like Fletcher tends to thrive.

It was Georgios Samaras who benefited yesterday. He ran without breaking stride on to one of Commons’ made-to-measure creations 10 minutes before half time to lash home the only goal of another fairly routine SPL victory for Neil Lennon’s side.

If truth be told, Samaras also needed the help of Hearts debutant Peter Enckelman who was rushed into action from the bench after No.1 Jamie MacDonald was left seeing little birdies after a sickening collision with Charlie Mulgrew.

Enckelman really ought to have done better than allow the striker to shoot right through him and, if he had, then Hearts might even have left Glasgow’s east end with a point for all of their hard work.

But in the end they were outclassed by tormentor-in-chief Commons who is proving just too hot for most of Scotland to handle. And yet Levein wouldn’t touch him with Fletcher’s old bargepole?

It all seems needlessly complicated but at least for one manager the game has never seemed more simple.

Lennon’s team selection these days seems a lot simpler than it has been at any time during his reign. In fact, there is a solid and settled look to his starting XI which is probably why he resisted the temptation to ring the changes on an industrial scale following that energy sapping, lung-bursting performance in Moscow.

Only Scott Brown dropped out and that one was forced on the manager who remains concerned over the skipper’s ongoing hip condition. Lennon could have brought back Joe Ledley, Beram Kayal or even both but, instead, he left them on the bench and told Mulgrew to slot over into Brown’s midfield berth and to pick up his armband at the same time.

James Forrest – a second-half hero in Russia – was promoted from the bench and invited to run riot down Celtic’s right wing. Before a ball had been kicked this looked all very daunting for Hearts.

And the task wasn’t to become any easier in a hectic and ultimately distressing opening spell which saw keeper MacDonald wheeled up the tunnel in a neck brace.

He had already made one superb save to keep out Mulgrew after the stand-in captain worked a wonderful 1-2 with Commons to get in behind the Hearts defence.

But when next Mulgrew came hurtling forward, attempting to connect with a flying header inside the six-yard box, he met with MacDonald head on and the pair did not recover.

In fact, it was remarkable, given that both men were laid flat out in front of the goal, that Craig Thomson allowed play to continue long enough for Forrest to miss a sitter at the back post, where he slid in to get his boot on a flashing Commons shot.

Had Forrest netted Thomson would have had a job explaining himself to MacDonald’s team-mates, some of whom appeared to realise almost instantly their man was in a seriously bad way.

Mulgrew was not much better but able at least to continue for another 20 minutes, even though he didn’t always appear to be in full control of his own senses before eventually giving way for Ledley.

MacDonald, though, was out for the count and in need of prolonged on-the-spot attention from the ambulance men who then wheeled him away on a trolly as Enckelman got stripped and ready to take over.

This was not a good moment for Hearts, who were distressed enough over MacDonald’s condition but now also anxious about the arrival on the scene of a man with a history of big-game howlers. Even Enckelman probably knew what was coming next.

For a while, though, Hearts were just about hanging in even though Samaras rattled the woodwork with a volley from a Commons cross.

Hearts really ought to have taken a 25th-minute lead when the lively looking Andrew Driver mugged Kelvin Wilson of possession near Celtic’s byline. He then had the composure to pick out Callum Paterson with a perfectly weighted cut-back but, almost incredibly, the youngster slid his effort wide from no more than five yards.

This was a bad miss and, with the imperious Commons claiming more and more control of this contest, Hearts always looked like paying heavily for it.

Celtic's Greek hero Georgios Samaras fires them in front Celtic's Greek hero Georgios Samaras fires them in front

The moment came in 34 minutes when Commons picked out Samaras once more, this time with a delicious through ball, and the Greek found himself one on one with Enckelman. Samaras unloaded quickly but his shot lacked precision and, had it not whizzed right through a gaping hole between Enckelman’s legs, then the Finn would have kept his side level.

At the other end, Fraser Forster showed him how it’s done with a fabulous fingertip save to turn a Mehdi Taouil drive over the bar.

Then Hearts survived another huge scare deep into injury time when Commons turned and twisted his way through a crowded box before screwing a shot across the face of goal and tantalisingly wide of Enckelman’s left-hand post.

There was another blow for John McGlynn at the start of the second half when striker Paterson was taken out from behind by a robust Wilson challenge on the halfway line. The teenager gestured he would not be recovering any time soon and John Sutton was called upon.

And yet, much to their credit, Hearts rolled with the punches and continued to grind their way back into the match until they were putting Celtic under some sustained pressure.

That they weren’t actually creating chances during this spell was not really the point. What mattered was these players could sense a shift in momentum and some of that, it must be said, was Lennon’s fault for making a raft of positional changes with his forwards at half time which did nothing to help the balance of his team.

It wasn’t long before the manager acknowledged this and told Commons, Forrest, Samaras and Hooper to revert to plan A but, crucially, just long enough for Hearts to begin to fancy their chances.

And so Lennon opted to change it again in 70 minutes when he replaced Hooper with Kayal in order to beef up his midfield. For the second time, Samaras took over in attack but it was still Commons causing Hearts the most bother.

He very nearly corkscrewed Ryan McGowan three feet into the turf of the full-back’s own penalty box with one superb movement which led to him smashing a left-foot drive just over.

It was spectacular stuff from the wide man who then presented Samaras with a gift only for him to pass it up – looping a header over when all he had to do was connect soundly with the cross to score.

In the dying moments Driver almost snatched a point with a snap-shot across the face of goal but although Hearts stuck at it until the final whistle, they too had no answer to the craft and class of Commons.

Taken from the Daily Record

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