Celtic down Hearts on afternoon to forget
Hearts went down with barely a whimper at Tynecastle this afternoon, Csaba Laszo's men proving totally incapable of making any sort of impression against Gordon Strachan's powerful Celtic side. Indeed, the men from Glasgow required barely twenty minutes to secure the points, that being the time it took for Shaun Maloney and Gary Caldwell to secure for their side an unassailable lead. True, the home side played most of the second period with ten men after Marius Zaliukas was red-carded for pulling down Scott McDonald, but it's hard to argue that the result would have been any different if he had remained on the pitch. In truth, Celtic won at a canter.
Csaba made just two changes from the team that drew with Aberdeen eight days previously, both of them in the wide midfield positions where Saulius Mikoliunas and Ruben Palazuelos dropped to the bench to be replaced by Deividas Cesnauskis on the right and Andrew Driver on the left. Other than that, the team and formation were unchanged from the previous two games, with the home side hoping that Bruno Aguiar and Christian Nade could add some penetration to the promise they have shown since they returned to first-team duty.
In contrast to Hearts, Celtic are in the middle of a hectic programme of domestic and European matches, but there is rarely any question of the men from Glasgow taking it easy at Tynecastle. A packed schedule can be mitigated if you can call on reserves of the quality of Paul Hartley and Cillian Sheridan when you need to rest the likes of Aidan McGeady and Shunsuke Nakamura. Still, the absence of two players who have caused no end of problems in the past could only be a good thing. Surely?
Well, maybe not. Nade did get on the end of an early Aguiar free-kick from wide on the Hearts left, but the Frenchman's improvised flick would never have troubled Artur Boruc even if it had been on target. After that, the visitors took complete control, and within five minutes deservedly found themselves a goal to the good.
Hartley was involved, supplying the inswinging delivery from the Celtic right which Janos Balogh elected to punch clear. Unfortunately the Hungarian's punch lacked both power and direction, dropping nicely for the lurking Maloney around 25 yards from goal. The Scotland man wasted no time in guiding a first-time volley screaming into the unguarded goal.
Csaba had mused during the week that his side seems only to come alive after conceding an early goal, and they did respond with a couple of flurries in and round the Celtic area. The closest we got to a shot on target, though, was an Aguiar free-kick which failed even to clear the defensive wall.
Celtic continued to look sharper and faster all over the park, and there was little surprise when they doubled their advantage on 19 minutes, again from a set piece. This time the corner floated in from the left was headed towards goal by the unmarked Barry Robson, and although Balogh did well enough to beat the effort away, he could do nothing when Gary Caldwell popped up to bundle the ball home at the far post.
Celtic were strolling through the match, their superiority interrupted only momentarily when Andrew Driver tried to emulate a free-kick he struck beautifully at Celtic park two season ago. This time his curled effort drifted a yard wide of Boruc's left-hand post.
To be fair, Hearts were now actually competing a lot better, although that might have been partly down to the fact that Celtic already had the points in the bag and could afford to stand of their opponents a little more. Still, there were some decent combinations between Driver, Nade and Michael Stewart, although nothing that ever seriously threatened Boruc's goal.
Cesnauskis was faring less well on the right, more than once losing out to Wilson and failing to use the ball intelligently from good positions. Perhaps coincidentally his participation in the match came to an end just after the half-hour when he was replaced by Miko, by which time Celtic had slowed down almost to walking pace. Despite that, it was they who almost extended their lead in first-half injury time with a low shot that trickled past Balogh's right hand post
The second half continued in similar vein. Five minutes in and Celtic were awarded a penalty when Scott McDonald was tugged back by Marius Zaliukas. TV pictures subsequently indicated that the original offence might have taken place just outside the area, but Mr Thomson awarded the spot-kick in any case. He also sent Zaliukas packing for denying McDonald a clear goal scoring opportunity, although the damage was lessened somewhat when Paul Hartley stroked the penalty just wide of Balogh's right-hand post.
The home side introduced Jamie Mole for Nade after an hour, a decision that was met with disbelief by the majority of the home fans in the ground. Indeed, the Frenchman could consider himself unfortunate to be removed, having proved himself to be one of very few players in maroon capable of causing problems for the opposition defence.
After that there was extremely little to shout about. With one eye already on the challenges ahead, Gordon Strachan was able to shuffle his pack by replacing Maloney and Robson with Aidan McGeady and Massimo Donati; Hearts for their part made their final roll of the dice by bringing on Ruben Palazuelos to replace the industrious Bruno Aguiar.
It all made little difference. Celtic continued to pass neatly and upped the tempo when required in the final third; Hearts mainly chased the shadows of their opponents around the pitch. They kept at it, though, and Mikoliunas did ping a dangerous ball across the face of goal which Hinkel managed to clear just ahead of Driver. That and a Stewart drive right down Boruc's throat were the sum total of Hearts meagre resistance on an afternoon best quickly forgotten.
Hearts: Balogh; Jonsson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Cesnauskis (Mikoliunas 34), Stewart, Karipidis, Aguiar (Palazuelos 78), Driver; Nade (Mole 59). Sent off: Zaliukas. Subs not used: McDonald, Thomson, Makela, Ksanavicius.
Celtic: Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson; Robson (Donati 76), S Brown, Hartley, Maloney (McGeady 65); Sheridan, McDonald (McCourt 88). Booked: Hartley. Subs not used: M Brown, Nakamura, O'Dea, Caddis.
Referee: Craig Thomson
Top man: Christophe Berra
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