THE football wasn’t entirely soaked in sophistication at Parkhead, but Hearts stormed back from two goals adrift with a thrilling sense of vengeance.
After a season dominated by hair-pulling despair for boss Jim Jefferies he can have seen nothing like this from his team, a 90-minute crusade embodied by Colin Cameron, whose midfield surges were thrilling to witness.
At the end, the Hearts fans, annexed to their Parkhead corner, were beside themselves with euphoria. Celtic’s players, by contrast, sloped away to a deafening crescendo of boos.
There was nothing foolish or premature about applying such significance to this result – the Edinburgh side clawed back into the match where others might have fabulously faltered. Fitzroy Simpson and Robert Tomaschek, two recent recruits, both played. Simpson was a tool in many a neat and crafted move, while Tomaschek, playing much deeper, remained elegantly strong throughout.
Nothing carried Hearts forward so much as the tearaway legs and blasting lungs of Cameron. From his central midfield beat, Cameron raged against Celtic’s advantage.
With Celtic bursting 2-0 ahead, the match could have been doomed to another slaughter witnessed many a time before by a Hearts fan at Parkhead. Cameron’s goal after 31 minutes, though, was a brave and boisterous piece of business, rushing past a posse of Celtic defenders to take Darren Jackson’s pass on the run and deftly curl his shot past the advancing Jonathan Gould.
Hearts restored themselves thrillingly. Lubo Moravcik, with his back to goal, had left his makers in disarray to shoot past Antti Niemi after 18 minutes, and Mark Viduka pursued this with a second ten minutes later, his diving header evading the Hearts goalkeeper after he had perpetrated his error.
But the Tynecastle team somehow refused to be brow-beaten. Cameron’s goal on the half-hour gave them a fresh flood of hope, and, as this match wore on, Hearts were increasingly intent on being dangerous.
The equaliser they secured in the 55th minute came amid a glut of signs that the Celtic defence were becoming chronic and reckless. Cameron once again hauled Hearts forward and Simpson took up the possession. By the time Simpson’s pass was released, Gary Naysmith had already rushed into the Celtic penalty box and his shot, left-footed, was floated beautifully beyond Gould’s reach.
By the time Hearts seized their lead, Celtic appeared to have lost all spirit and confidence. Time and again the visitors surged forward in spearing breakaways as the home side struggled to stem the counter-flow.
In the 82nd minute, Tommy Johnson brushed Jackson to the ground for a penalty. Cameron, the king of Hearts, stroked away the spot-kick.