London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2008-09--> All for 20081213
<-Page <-Team Sat 13 Dec 2008 Celtic 1 Hearts 1 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Independent ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Nick Harris auth-> Charlie Richmond
[S McManus 79]
22 of 032 Andrew Driver 23 L SPL A

Driver keeps Hearts on the road – for now

Celtic 1 Hearts 1

By Nick Harris

Unexpected draws for the Old Firm on Saturday will not alter the fact that Celtic and Rangers will finish first and second, in some order, in the Scottish Premier League. That Celtic could play so badly in this match – "the worst for a long, long time," agreed manager Gordon Strachan – and still emerge with a point indicates the gulf between the top pair and the rest.

Rangers' 2-2 draw at Dundee United said as much about the hosts' consistency under Craig Levein than Rangers' brittle away form of late. Rangers will not be lower than second. So far, so boring, as another two-horse race unfolds. Depending on your viewpoint, it might become more of a snooze-fest than ever before because both clubs are out of Europe so there is not even any continental distraction to perk up the winter and early spring. Or it might be even more exciting than ever, with only the one big bauble to scrap for: the SPL title and attendant automatic Champions League qualification slot.

What unfolded on Saturday at Celtic Park was a reminder that the division can throw up not just intriguing sub-plots but football from outside the Old Firm that, if played on a more consistent basis, could threaten the duopoly. Hearts split Celtic and Rangers in 2005-06 and they are producing some of their best performances since.

They arrived in Glasgow's east end with five straight SPL wins behind them, but amid uncertainty about wages being paid on time, bonuses being paid at all, and whether the current squad will remain largely intact after next month. Vladimir Romanov, the owner, had no qualms in better financial days about shipping out and cashing in. Craig Gordon, Andrius Velicka, Roman Bednar, Rudi Skacel and Paul Hartley were among those who went, to the detriment of ambition if not the bottom line.

So now the credit crunching is really biting it would be remarkable if Hearts keep their best players any more than a few moments longer than they get transfer-window offers. Bids from Championship clubs at least are feasible. Andrew Driver, a 21-year-old Oldham-born left winger who has attracted Stuart Pearce's interest for England recently, ran rings round a woeful Celtic, scoring once and making other good chances. Laryea Kingston, a Ghana international midfielder, can be a hothead but could also attract interest, as could the young Scotland defender Christophe Berra and others. "There were people at the game to watch my players," said the Hearts manager, Csaba Laszlo. "I am happy about that and I will tell you why. If we were 10th or 12th in the table then nobody would be looking at them. So the players are doing a good job."

Laszlo, who was brought to Tynecastle from his post as manager of Uganda, is an engaging character, accustomed to making the best of adversity. Born in Transylvania, he was raised as an ethnic minority Hungarian in communist Romania and fled to the west in 1984, starting a new life with German relatives. Still getting used to Britain, he answers questions in broken, digressive English in the spirit of the Duracell bunny. He goes on and on and on, but if you listen he says much worth hearing. To paraphrase and abbreviate another passage: "We don't have a clue how long our jobs will last, or whether we'll get paid, but so what? We'll carry on until anyone tells us different."

Goals: Driver (23) 0-1; McManus (79) 1-1.

Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson (Naylor, 66); Nakamura, S Brown, Hartley, McGeady; McDonald, Maloney (Samaras, 30). Substitutes not used: M Brown (gk), Sheridan, Crosas, O'Dea, Mizuno.

Heart of Midlothian (4-4-1-1): Balogh; Neilson, Zaliukas, Berra, Jonsson; Kingston (Obua, 60), Palazuelos, Karipidis, Driver; Aguiar (Cesnauskis, 66); Nade (Mole, 89). Substitutes not used: MacDonald (gk), Makela, Thomson, Rapnik.

Referee: C Richmond (Scotland).

Booked: Hearts Neilson, Kingston, Balogh.

Man of the match: Driver.

Attendance: 56,079

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