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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Mark Guidi auth-> Craig Thomson
[J Hesselink 1]
19 of 030 Bruno Aguiar 32 L SPL H

Hearts 1 Celtic 1

Apr 12 2009 Mark Guidi

THE title race will go to the wire but the scrap for third place should be sewn up much quicker.

Outwith the Old Firm, Hearts are the best side in the SPL.

And if Csaba Laszlo's men repeat the drive and determination they showed yesterday against Celtic a Europa League slot could in the bag with a bit to spare.

The Jambos suffered a crushing early blow when Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink fired Gordon Strachan's side ahead inside a minute.

But they showed great character to battle back and Bruno Aguiar's stunning free-kick in 31 minutes sealed a point.

Hearts could easily have crumbled after losing such an early goal. With Georgios Samaras injured, Vennegoor of Hesselink started for Celtic and justified his selection by scoring in just 25 seconds.

The Dutchman got on the end of an Andreas Hinkel cross from the right and sent a low volley past Janos Balogh.

It was a decent strike but the Jambos keeper should have kept it out.

Going behind so early to the champions would have crushed many sides but Hearts used it to spur themselves on.

They controlled the rest of the half and their energy had Celtic on the back foot. Laszlo played Aguiar just off lone striker Calum Elliot and his tactics worked superbly.

The Tynecastle boss and his players deserve great credit for working on this system and playing attractive football with one up front.

David Obua and Andrew Driver frequently switched wings and kept throwing something different at the Celtic full-backs.

Obua whipped in some excellent crosses but his towering team-mates failed to take advantage. Hearts were dominating midfield, though, with Ruben Palazuelos protecting the back four and allowing Michael Stewart to bomb forward.

Celtic strike pair Scott McDonald and Vennegoor of Hesselink were virtual spectators - although the Dutchman headed just wide from a corner in 18 minutes. Big Jan was doing more work in his own box - and put in some solid defending as Hearts had a go.

Aiden McGeady inspired the Hoops in midweek against Falkirk but couldn't get enough service here to test Robbie Neilson.

Hearts looked like they had a goal in them and it finally came in 31 minutes.

Craig Thomson awarded the Jambos a free-kick 28 yards out, bang in the centre, after Gary Caldwell had fouled Stewart.

Aguiar stepped up and sent a superb strike round the wall and into the net.

Boruc could be questioned for not keeping it out to his left but it was an excellent finish and a deserved equaliser.

At the interval, injured Celtic skipper Stephen McManus was taken off for Marc

Crosas so Caldwell moved from midfield to partner Glenn Loovens at the back.

Caldwell did well in both roles, playing football when he had the chance and clearing his lines when put under pressure.

Hearts continued to dominate after the break and Boruc pulled off a stunning save when he finger-tipped a Marius Zaliukas 20-yarder past a post in 50 minutes.

However, for all the possession the Jambos enjoyed, Boruc wasn't really worked after that stop. That was a disappointment for Laszlo.

Celtic gradually got more and more in to the game as Hearts started to tire from playing at such a ferocious pace.

Driven on by the impressive Scott Brown, Strachan's side finished the stronger as they pushed for the goal that would have given them a massive title boost. The better chances fell to the Hoops in the final 10 minutes but they couldn't find a winner.

Sub Shunsuke Nakamura - on for the ineffectual Willo Flood in 55 minutes - had a great chance to score with four minutes left but Zaliukas blocked to prevent a certain goal.

The Japanese midfielder also screamed for a penalty when his free-kick on the edge of the box struck Stewart's arm in the wall.

It was a good shout for a spot-kick but referee Thomson waved play on.

Celtic's other great chance fell to sub Koki Mizuno - on for McGeady - but he lashed the ball wide from 16 yards.

Overall, a draw was about right in what was an entertaining 90 minutes. Credit to both sides for serving up a good game..


Craig Thomson had a good afternoon and always let the game flow. Some players tried to con him but he's wise enough and experienced enough to see right through them. Only had to pull out a yellow card once to book Stephen McManus. Can be pleased with his display.Rating: 7/10.

Taken from the Sunday Mail

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