Night of shame
Tynecastle was a bear pit for the visit of Celtic again last night, but the achievement of Neil Lennon's side in emerging with a victory that takes the SPL title to the last games on Sunday was eclipsed almost completely by the latest disgraceful episode in the relentless harassment of this manager.
Four minutes into the second half, with Gary Hooper having scored his second goal of the evening and with the visiting fans bellowing their celebratory anthems, a man suddenly vaulted the barrier separating the Hearts fans behind the Celtic technical area from the pitch, and threw himself at Lennon.
He was almost immediately smothered by stewards and police and dragged down the tunnel with a venomous look on his face. The man was later arrested.
It may be taken for granted that the Scottish Football Association will demand to know how it was possible for a figure like Lennon -- who has been the subject of threats and who was the intended recipient of a mail bomb last month -- could not depend on the host club to secure the technical area from such personally delivered malevolence.
This was the ground where Lennon was sent to the stand by last night's referee, Craig Thomson, during a 2-0 defeat in November and the official again found himself embroiled in a stew of controversy, first when he sent off David Obua for a laughably inconsequential offence and then when he was forced to red-card Kris Commons when the Celtic midfielder scored Celtic's third goal late in the proceedings.
Commons had been cautioned for simulation only a minute previously and, in a gesture both understandable because of his euphoria and foolish in view of earlier events, charged to the Celtic fans behind Marian Kello's goal, an action for which he was bound to be booked again. He now misses Celtic's final fixture, at home to Motherwell on Sunday.
The mandatory refereeing controversy involving Celtic or their opponents arrived on the half-hour mark when Obua and Charlie Mulgrew went for a hanging ball on the edge of the pitch just beyond the technical areas. Hearts' Ugandan midfielder threw up his hands -- always an action that carries an element of risk -- one of which skimmed Mulgrew's hair.
Mulgrew made no complaint and it seemed that nothing more substantial would emerge from the collision than a throw-in to Celtic. Instead, the nearside assistant, Keith Sorbie, asked to speak to Thomson and when the referee emerged from the consultation it was to brandish the red card at Obua, whose evident incredulity was matched by that of the crowd and even by Lennon, who held his head in his hands.
It would be fair to say that if Obua's action counts as a punch -- which is what Sorbie evidently told Thomson -- then just about everybody in the crowd, women and children included, would fancy their chances in a in a three-round bout with the player. Obua's own reaction was to laugh and embrace the match official as though Thomson had just told him a rib-tickler.
Laying hands on the referee, needless to say, is likely to compound Obua's non-offence, unless Thomson omits that detail from his report, which should make interesting reading when it arrives in the SFA offices today or tomorrow.
That was nothing, however, to the turn of events that overtook the contest four minutes into the second half. Hooper, who had opened the scoring for Celtic after only 11 minutes, doubled his tally with another neat finish to put the match effectively beyond Hearts' reach.
As the players assembled in their respective halves of the field for the restart, the assault on Lennon was launched from a seat a few feet behind. You will forgive, I trust, the absence of detailed accounts of play on a night which once again saw Scottish football make lurid headlines for dispatches more suited to a combat zone than the field of play. (© Daily Telegraph, London)