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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Graham Spiers auth-> Craig Thomson
[J Hesselink 1]
22 of 030 Bruno Aguiar 32 L SPL H

Thrill a minute at Tynecastle as Celtic drop points

Heart of Midlothian 1 Celtic 1
Graham Spiers

Tynecastle remains a special venue. This hectic game on Saturday may have lacked some of the finer aspects of football, but nonetheless, what a match and what a spectacle. And the whole thing was cooked up within the tight, steep confines of a stadium which seems to apply its own laws of physics in terms of pace, tempo and ferocity.

The Clydesdale Bank Premier League title race is a bit clearer, some say, after this, though this is a view which is to be queried. Celtic dropped two points here – or did they gain a point? – while Rangers won three at Ibrox against Motherwell, handing the psychological edge, so the argument goes, back to Walter Smith’s team. It seems a fragile case to make, given the six fixture furlongs which remain, among them a Rangers visit to Tynecastle where they have already lost this season. Celtic remain a point ahead of their Old Firm rivals.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink – that goal machine, that sheer, gluttonous poacher – put Celtic ahead with his fifth goal of the season, but it was a beautiful free kick from Bruno Aguiar before half-time which gave Heart of Midlothian their thoroughly deserved point. The compact Portuguese midfield player’s execution of that shot after 32 minutes was so perfectly flighted that Artur Boruc, though he dived after it in vain, was made to look a mite incompetent by Aguiar’s delivery. The rest of this game was just a madhouse of attack and counter-attack, amid a raucous atmosphere.

Gordon Strachan, for all that the Celtic manager made positive noises afterwards, still encountered one or two problems which may preoccupy him this week. Boruc is certainly one of them. The Pole was an unconvincing figure throughout this match, seemingly chained to his line when events demanded that he come forth to collect, and the upshot was quite a degree of uncertainty in the Celtic defence. Boruc may be on borrowed time at Celtic, with the imminent arrival of Lukasz Zaluska from Dundee United in the summer, and Strachan surely craves a credible alternative to the loose cannon he currently calls his goalkeeper. Mark Brown, alas, has not proved that man.

Then there is the vexed case of Stephen McManus, a defender whom Strachan all but accused of putting country before club on Saturday. The big Celtic captain looked slow and cumbersome during the first 45 minutes at Tynecastle and did not reappear for the second half. It transpired that, at half-time, Strachan had had to ask his skipper outright if he was fully fit or not – in Strachan’s case he felt convinced the answer was “no”. McManus was replaced by Marc Crosas – with Gary Caldwell dropping back from midfield – and the Celtic manager seemed none too pleased about it all later.

“Mick is too brave for his own good sometimes,” Strachan said. “There comes a point when he has to say, ‘enough is enough – the pain is too much’. So we had to get that sorted at half-time. He has a problem with his ankle. We kept asking him about it and he kept saying he felt fine. So it got to the point where I had to make a decision, for his own good, and for the good of the team.

“Stephen pushed himself to play for Scotland [against Iceland] – he just doesn’t want to give that Scotland place up. And he feels the same here at Celtic. So we had to be strong with him at half-time.” To put it less diplomatically, Strachan was not best pleased with his evasive captain.

In Ruben Palazuelos, David Obua, Calum Elliot, Christos Karipidis, Marius Zaliukas and others, Hearts are certainly no team of midgets. Strachan felt their physical threat might pose a problem, so he dropped Shunsuke Nakamura and placed Caldwell in midfield alongside Scott Brown to add a bit of physical intimidation to his mix. There are, however, two very different sides to this recurring argument about “big, ugly Hearts”.

“It was the land of the giants out there – Hearts must have at least eight players that are six feet and over, so you have to deal with that,” Strachan said. “I had to pick a team with a bit of flair but also with a bit of height. Hearts use their weapons well. By the way, I’m not complaining about the way they play, but it is a contrast in styles, and they do their thing well.”

It would be wrong, however, to liken Hearts to a team of Olympic-style hammer throwers. They are nothing of the sort, and on Saturday played a lot of clever midfield football through Michael Stewart and Palazuelos. And in Aguiar, arguably, Hearts had the best player on the field: a little man who runs and probes and passes to marvellous effect, let alone who can deliver such gorgeous free kicks. Like Morgaro Gomis at Dundee United, Aguiar may well be a player Strachan eyes covetously.

The match was 27 seconds old when Vennegoor of Hesselink put Celtic into the lead, taking Andreas Hinkel’s cross and stabbing a shot past the fumbling Janos Balogh. The Hearts goalkeeper made a hash of trying to make the save, and saying he was too “cold” so early in the proceedings seems a lame excuse. Csaba Laszlo, if he seriously wants to challenge for the title in Scotland, will somehow have to find a decent goalkeeper.

But Hearts would not be tamed, and they rushed at Celtic. There were quite a few skirmishes around Boruc’s goal but not one to match Aguiar’s exquisite, curling 25-yard free kick around the Celtic wall and past Boruc for Hearts’ equaliser.

Laszlo, the Hearts manager, warbled later about his satisfaction with his team and how well they had applied themselves. It is much better, however, to simply precis Laszlo like this, rather than record every one of his unending sentences. He is the most verbose coach encountered in Scotland in many a long year.

Hearts (4-4-1-1): J Balogh 4 R Neilson 5 C Karipidis 6 M Zaliukas 6 L Wallace 7 A Driver 6 M Stewart 6 R Palazuelos 6 D Obua 7 B Aguiar 8 C Elliot 7 Substitutes C Nadé (for Elliot, 75min), M Tullberg (for Aguiar, 85). Not used J MacDonald, D Cesnauskis, E Jonsson, M Park, D Templeton.

Celtic (4-4-2): A Boruc 5 A Hinkel 6 G Loovens 6 S McManus 4 L Naylor 5 W Flood 4 G Caldwell 7 S Brown 6 A McGeady 7 S McDonald 5 J Vennegoor 6Substitutes M Crosas 5 (for McManus, 46min), S Nakamura 6 (for Flood, 55), K Mizuno (for McGeady, 83). Not used M Brown, S Ferry, M Misun, S Maloney.

Referee: C Thomson Attendance: 16,514

Taken from

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