London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Sunday Herald ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Ronnie Cully auth-> Craig Thomson
[J Hesselink 1]
13 of 030 Bruno Aguiar 32 L SPL H

Hosts rue their generosity


Ronnie Cully at Tynecastle

IN THE weird and wonderful world inhabited by the entertainingly eccentric Csaba Laszlo, it was a day when Hearts presented Celtic with an Easter egg after just 28 seconds.

The more down-to-earth Gordon Strachan considered it a curate's egg of a performance, his side having started as though they were going to breeze to an important three points, but who had a stinker until finishing with a flourish which could have seen them retain their three-point advantage at the top of the table.

That would have been rough justice, considering how well Hearts deployed their tactics of out-muscling, out-running and out-jumping a Celtic side which was losing height and weight with every enforced substitution.

When, at the interval, you have to take off Stephen McManus and replace him with the slightly-built Marc Crosas - the defender told he could not continue as his damaged ankle was causing a lack of mobility which was hurting his side more than it was hurting him - you know the gameplan has to be ripped up and improvisation plus perspiration accepted as your default position.

With Darren O'Dea, Barry Robson and Georgios Samaras already out, Strachan is now faced with finding enough fit players to meet the imposing challenge which will be presented by Aberdeen in their final game before the split.

That he does not have to do so on the back of a damaging defeat is because Hearts failed to turn long periods of domination into clear-cut chances.

Laszlo has every reason to rue his side's lack of cutting edge, a long-standing shortcoming which has prevented the Tynecastle outfit from making a serious challenge to the Old Firm this season in terms of the championship.

Despite the lunchtime kick off for this one - anathema to football purists - it was a decent start from Celtic which provided further food for thought from Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink as Peter Lawwell chews over the decision regarding the Dutchman's contract extension.

Hearts were still organising themselves at the back when Aiden McGeady crossed from the left. Andy Driver's attempt to clear the danger saw the ball travel only as far as Andreas Hinkel, whose low pass back into the area was seized upon by the lurking Dutchman.

His side-foot effort should have been meat and drink to Janos Balogh, but he let the shot slip through his fingers and dribble in at the bottom corner. Laszlo refused to criticise his keeper, publicly at least, for the error, but identified a generosity which could cost them dear.

"If you think how many times have we given a gift to the opposition, it would make you crazy," he mused. "Against Rangers on Mother's Day, we said, Be happy' as they shipped two poor goals. Now, at Easter, it was a big egg after 30 seconds. We said, Here's your Easter egg'.

"But we came back after a very nice free-kick from Bruno." Aguiar toed the party line by accepting collective responsibility for the poor start, pointing to the fact poor defending could have prevented the ball ever reaching Vennegoor of Hesselink, who has now made it three goals in his last three games, an emphatic ending to the personal drought which has stretched back to September.

Aguiar - who expressed his belief that Celtic have a little more than Rangers in terms of what is required to become champions - can take full responsibility for getting Hearts back on level terms, his free-kick from 25 yards after 31 minutes sailing round the Celtic wall before curling back inside the post but still outwith the reach of the diving Artur Boruc.

The execution was perfect, but it was a disappointing goal to lose in the opinion of the Celtic manager who had implored his players not concede to free-kicks in the final third, wary of the danger posed by Aguiar and the height advantage enjoyed by Hearts. That warning went unheeded, and after Gary Caldwell had illegally halted Michael Stewart's attempt to instigate a one-two, Aguiar made them pay.

Hearts' refusal to allow Celtic to settle, particularly in the middle of the park, should have brought them even more joy. Caldwell - who started in midfield to add strength and height before being forced to drop back into defence with the departure of McManus - did his best to repel them, but received very little support from a toiling Scott Brown. Strachan said he was hampered by the ankle injury which had forced him to undergo a fitness test just hours before the game.

McGeady also found himself on the back foot more often than attacking, while Willo Flood looked out of his depth on the other flank and lasted just 10 minutes of the second half before giving way to Shunsuke Nakamura.

The Japanese midfielder was joined for the final few minutes by compatriot Koki Mizuno and opportunities were finally created to stage a smash and grab of all three points. But Nakamura's late chance was charged down by the dogged Marius Zaliukas while Glenn Loovens spurned a good opportunity and had another scrambled clear.

Seconds later, the referee blew and Strachan pushed his hands in the air in mock celebration.

When the points are tallied at the end of the season, it might prove to be a result worthy of the gesture.

Taken from the Sunday Herald

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