Maroon memories: Kingston & crew spoil the title party

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HEARTS confirmed their status as Scottish football’s least desirable house guests as they plundered a victory which re-energised their European ambitions at Celtic Park to take the shine off the SPL champions’ title celebrations and trophy presentation.

Celtic 1-3 Hearts

April 29, 2007

They repeated their exploits from the previous month when they went across the city to Easter Road to defeat CIS Insurance Cup winners Hibernian, the Tynecastle club once again proving themselves to be the ultimate party-poopers while at the same time installing belief that the coveted third place finish could still be achieved.

Hearts set themselves up in a system which made it clear they would have been content with a point, Michal Pospisil deployed as a lone striker with Kestutis Ivaskevicius operating just behind him, and they largely restricted Celtic to long range attempts on goal during a low-key first half.

Craig Gordon dealt with most of them with a degree of comfort, although he was extended by a well struck Jiri Jarosik effort which saw the Scotland No.1 plunge low to his right to turn the ball behind.

If there was no necessity for a sense of urgency in Celtic’s performance, they appeared determined enough to rack up yet another victory as they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession.

Stephen McManus should have headed them in front from a Shunsuke Nakamura corner, the defender heading over from close range, and Aiden McGeady steered a shot from the edge of the box narrowly wide with Gordon beaten and static.

Hearts made a change midway through the first half, Julien Brellier was withdrawn and replaced by Tomas Kancelskis.

While the French midfielder had earlier needed treatment for an injury, he displayed extreme displeasure at being taken off.

It certainly did not seem like a substitution Hearts would make willingly, requiring, as it did, a tactical reshuffle as Kancelskis moved into central defence with his compatriot Marius Zaliukas moving forward to fill Brellier’s role. The visitors were forced to make another change at the start of a unexpectedly thrilling second half, Lee Wallace replacing the injured Jose Goncalves at left-back.

It was the outstanding Laryea Kingston who created the 57th minute opener for Hearts, surging down the right and delivering a low cross to Ivaskevicius.

The Lithuanian easily eluded Steven Pressley’s cumbersome challenge and showed great composure to chip a right foot shot over the advancing Artur Boruc. Celtic had barely digested that setback when Hearts doubled their lead four minutes later.

Lee Naylor was booked for cynically stopping another Kingston run on the edge of the home penalty area and Andrew Driver stepped up to brilliantly curl the free-kick over the wall and beyond Boruc’s left hand in a manner Nakamura would have been proud to emulate at the other end.

The prospect of defeat on the day they retained possession of the trophy was an unpalatable one for Celtic and they almost immediately pulled themselves back into the contest when Pressley took full advantage of poor marking in the Hearts defence to head a Nakamura cross beyond Gordon from close range.

If the stage was now set for a typical Celtic comeback, Hearts were simply not prepared to follow the script. They sealed their victory with 19 minutes remaining, Pressley conceding a penalty with a body check on Kingston which also earned him a caution.

Pospisil stepped up to drive the ball emphatically beyond Boruc.