Tuesday 24 April 2018

Lennon revels in fans' acclaim after rout

Hearts 0 Celtic 4

Ronnie Esplin

Celtic reminded everyone why they are Scottish Premier League champions with a comprehensive win at Tynecastle.

The Hoops have stuttered in their journey to the top of the SPL this season but they responded to their shock 1-0 home defeat by Inverness at the weekend in fine style with goals from striker Lassad Nouioui and right-back Mikael Lustig before Charlie Mulgrew's cut-back was deflected into his own net by Gorgie midfielder Ryan Stevenson.

The second half was a formality for the clinical visitors with striker Gary Hooper grabbing a fourth late in the game before Hoops goalkeeper Fraser Forster showed why he has forced his way into the England set-up by saving a late penalty from Hearts skipper Marius Zaliukas.

Celtic's impressive performance must have put a smile on the face of manager Neil Lennon, who had dramatically threatened to quit the club following an altercation with fans during the Caley defeat, and he took the acclaim of the travelling supporters as his side coasted to victory.

The future of financially stricken Hearts is still far from secure but they had their moments in this game, only to be foiled, in the main, by Forster.

Lennon made three changes to his side with defender Kelvin Wilson, midfielder Joe Ledley and Lassad in for Adam Matthews, Georgios Samaras and Tony Watt, who all started on the bench.

It was a typically frantic and frenetic start but by the interval the points were on their way back to Glasgow. In the fourth minute Hooper set up Kris Commons whose shot from 12 yards was beaten away by Jamie MacDonald.

Celtic forced their way in front in the 10th minute when Commons' cross from the left found Lassad, who confidently volleyed it low past MacDonald at his near post.

There were chances at either end before Celtic showed their ruthless side midway through the half when Lustig put them 2-0 ahead.

The Sweden international started the move on the right and when Lassad's cut-back broke to him 12 yards out after Commons had been foiled in a packed penalty area, he stabbed the ball past MacDonald.

The Hoops went further ahead on the half-hour mark when Commons' deep cross ended up at the far side of the box with Mulgrew, whose cut-back was put past his own 'keeper by the hapless Stevenson.

After the break, Forster pulled off a couple of fine saves as Hearts pressed, but it was 4-0 eight minutes from full-time when Hooper volleyed in a Mulgrew cross from six yards.

With two minutes remaining, Hearts were awarded a penalty when Wilson fouled Stevenson but Forster completed another great display by diving low to his right to thwart Zaliukas.

• Pat Fenlon's Hibernians kept up the pressure on the league leaders, with Paul Cairney's late strike sealing a 1-0 win at St Johnstone that kept them just a point off the pace, albeit having played a game more than Celtic.

Irish Independent

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