London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Sat 02 Apr 2005 Celtic 0 Hearts 2 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth Tom English auth-> Hugh Dallas
7 of 010 Lee Miller 8 ;Mark Burchill 19 L SPL A
Hit where it hurts


HEARTS 2 Miller 8; Burchill 19

YOU couldn’t tell it from the utterly miserable expression on John Robertson’s face but his team performed marvellously yesterday. They inflicted some unexpected misery on Martin O’Neill’s team, not to mention setting the pot bubbling ahead of their rematch in the Scottish Cup semi-final a week today. With two goals in the first 20 minutes and a whole lot of composed defending thereafter, they utterly deserved their victory. As their impressive striker, Lee Miller said later, they came here with the belief that they could win. "We started that way and we finished that way, too." Too right, they did.

Miller was a serious nuisance to Celtic, scoring the first one and assisting in the second, which went to Mark Burchill. Celtic created some chances of their own but mostly they were snuffed-out by the excellence of the Hearts defence, marshalled in the main by the towering figures of Steven Pressley and Andy Webster. Those two had more than a hint of devil about them in the way they committed to tackles and, by their aggression, they set the tone for the entire Hearts effort.

If they provided the bite, Miller came up with that bit of class. On-loan from Bristol City, his valuation will have increased after this. Perhaps it is the memory (now distant) of the price Bristol originally put on Miller’s head (in the region of £125,000) that had Robertson in such a surly mood on the day of one of his finest hours as a manager. Perhaps he was put out, too, by the certain knowledge that before the striker becomes Hearts’ property, that figure will, at the very least double and possibly treble.

But what of Celtic? "No excuses," said O’Neill afterwards, before banging on about the demands on the international core in his squad and how some of his players were "exceptionally tired". Being away with their countries was tough enough, he said, "but it’s the travelling back and forward. It told today". What O’Neill should have said was that he had excuses but that he didn’t have any especially legitimate ones.

A lack of energy wasn’t Celtic’s problem yesterday. Poor defending in those first 20 minutes was. Abject passing was. A greater Hearts did for them also. Celtic have now given the initiative right back to Rangers. If - when - they win today against Motherwell, Alex McLeish’s side will go one point clear at the top. O’Neill described it the whole affair as a setback. ‘’I’m not shell-shocked, I’m just disappointed.

"We gave ourselves a lot to do by losing two not particularly brilliant goals. We had time to come back but we didn’t do it. We were 2-0 down to Aberdeen inside six minutes [in the Dons’ 3-2 win in October] and for the next 84 minutes we were outstanding. We didn’t play nearly as well today. We didn’t create enough chances. We were beaten and we deserved to get beaten."

It was a desperate day all-round for Celtic. You could sense the rising anger among the supporters just as soon as Hearts scored their second goal. By half-time they were determined to take their anger out on somebody. Enter Brian Quinn, the Celtic chairman, wo was brought out on to the middle of a field for a presentation from a Celtic Supporters Club from Villarreal in Spain. When Quinn’s name was read out over the public address system he was roundly booed by the Parkhead crowd, and when the master of ceremonies asked him to say a few words, he was booed again, handing back the microphone before he opened his mouth.

The supporters blame him for keeping too tight a hold of the club’s finances, thereby putting their Scottish and European aspirations in jeopardy. Two goals down at home this close to the end of the season was not the best time for the chairman to be accepting commemorative plates in the middle of Celtic Park.

Miller’s opening goal set up the whole afternoon quite beautifully. Marius Kizys floated a harmless looking free-kick into the Celtic penalty and you really do have to wonder where Stephane Henchoz and Bobo Balde were at the time. Certainly nowhere near Webster who was given a free header directly in front of David Marshall. The Hearts defender’s effort was blocked by Rab Douglas’ stand-in, but even when it popped up to Miller a few yards out there was still no sign of the Celtic cavalry. Miller nodded into an empty net.

It got tasty thereafter. Three Hearts men were booked in quick order and where Miller led up front, Burchill soon followed. What a personal embarrassment it was for Henchoz, the defender playing it straight to Miller who immediately slid a gorgeous pass through to Burchill. His finish, almost passed into the net low to Marshall’s left, was of the highest quality.

At 2-0 Celtic had a crisis on their hands. Not surprisingly their intensity went up several levels, but it was all rather unconvincing. John Hartson had a shot easily saved by Craig Gordon, Craig Bellamy stuck one right across the penalty area, Stan Varga rifled one at Gordon.

By the 36th minute, Henchoz was gone, yanked off in what, presumably, was something resembling mortification. His replacement may have been similarly afflicted not longer after, however. Bellamy played Ross Wallace through on Gordon but he pushed his shot badly wide.

On Celtic pressed. Varga unleashed one from distance and Hartson had his flick turned over by Gordon. All that Celtic possession might sound as if Hearts were hanging on but that was far from the case. It’s true, the visitors attempted to wind down the clock humorously early in the second half - although O’Neill didn’t seem to find it funny - but they looked at ease. If anything, as the Celtic’s sorties grew more desperate, Hearts looked the more dangerous team.

Midway through the second-half, Kizys ransacked Varga and cut in from the left pushing his shot just past Marshall’s far post. Celtic almost got suckered again ten minutes later when Calum Elliot, on for the injured Burchill after an hour, sent a cross fizzing in from the right wing, Miller failing marginally to get a foot to it. Webster shaved the post with a header.

Celtic had been reduced by then to a slightly manic rabble. One moment a minute from normal time told you that much. Balde carried himself forward in a forlorn hope of influencing things. He received the ball on the right side of the Hearts penalty box, shuffled his feet and moved clear of his marker before sending a precise pass into Bellamy’s path. You would have expected him to score but he scooped it high over Gordon’s crossbar.

O’Neill said that he knew then that his team was sunk. Advantage Rangers once more.

Taken from the Scotsman

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