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Sunday 17 December 2017

Hearts plunge stake into Celtic's hopes

There was relief all around Tynecastle that football was the centre of attention on Celtic's return to the stadium for the first time since the explosive evening of May 11, when Neil Lennon was assailed by a Hearts fan who bolted from his seat in the main stand.

However, there was no respite for the Hoops manager from his team's stuttering form as their third league defeat of the season saw them slip 10 points behind Rangers and one point adrift of Motherwell.

Celtic do have a game in hand, but then they had two to spare going into this match -- an illustration of the value of real victories rather than the notional kind.

Lennon's plans were undermined by hesitancy at both ends of the field but that should not detract from Hearts' accomplishment.

There was nothing to choose between the sides by the interval in a decent, but not exceptional, contest. The change occurred in the space of five second-half minutes around the hour-mark.

Lennon, attended by a bodyguard who would not have looked misplaced in a Sumo wrestling match, must have wished that his defenders were as vigilant as his minder when they allowed a Jamie Hammill cross to drop in front of Rudi Skacel, who clipped a left-foot drive across Fraser Forster and in at the far post. The goalkeeper may have been unsighted but there was no plea of mitigation for Kris Commons in the next significant incident.

The midfielder, who has looked out of sorts on his appearances this season, embarked on a crossfield run on the half-way line and took a couple of nips from opponents en route, one of which saw him lose possession to Adrian Mrowiec. Commons' frustration boiled over and he crashed into the Pole in full view of Craig Thomson.


The referee -- who was in charge of the two tumultuous encounters between these sides at the same venue last season -- whipped the red card from his pocket.

In the equivalent fixture last year Thomson sent Lennon to the stand and reported him for excessive misconduct, but on this occasion the Celtic manager made no case for Commons' loss of temper.

"One player lost his discipline and let us down badly. I didn't get a good look at it but from what I can gather it was a lunge and it was high," said Lennon.

"He is going to be suspended again for one to three games. He has apologised but it is not good enough. He let himself down and let us down so he will be dealt with accordingly, in house."

Lennon had already withdrawn the ineffectual Mohamed Bangura -- who displayed some of the haplessness that has brought Georgios Samaras into bad odour with the Celtic support -- and sent on Anthony Stokes before Commons departed, so was left with no choice but to continue to chase the game with reduced strength.

His options reduced further when David Templeton caught Adam Matthews with a challenge that forced the Welsh defender to limp off.

Matthews was replaced by Mark Wilson, who found himself exposed for Hearts' second goal when Templeton found Ryan Stevenson with a cute backheeled pass which freed his colleague to take a couple of strides and drive past Forster from a few yards out.

"We were in control of the game when Hearts scored," said Lennon. "We missed simple clear-cut chances in the first half and away from home you can't afford to do that.

"We lost the goal and then the discipline and I cannot accept that either. When you are a goal down away from home with 10 men it leaves you open to a second goal, which is what happened.

"Ten points is redeemable but we can't afford to lose any more games."

Hearts were watched by Vladimir Romanov, who appeared in the dressing-room beforehand -- issuing a terse order to "Just win" -- and the club's owner spent most of the proceedings grinning from his vantage point in the directors' box before leaving early for the airport. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

HEARTS 2, CELTIC 0, Roddy Forsyth

Irish Independent

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