Maroon Memories: Hearts are happy to ruin Celtic’s title party
Hearts spoiled Celtic’s title-winning party with a victory that kept alive their hopes of catching Aberdeen for a UEFA Cup qualification place.
The Jambos would end the season in fourth-place, four points adrift of the Dons who secured a first-round spot in the UEFA Cup, however they could take claim for being the only Scottish side to put three goals past the champions.
Celtic manager Gordon Strachan freshened his side up for the match that would precede the presentation of the Scottish Premier League trophy.
Jean-Joel Perrier Doumbe made his debut at right-back, joining Stephen McManus, Lee Naylor, Aiden McGeady and Jiri Jarosik in the starting line-up while Gary Caldwell, Darren O’Dea, John Kennedy, Thomas Gravesen and Derek Riordan dropped out.
Left-back Lee Wallace and injured striker Andrius Velicka missed out for Hearts, with Jose Goncalves and Saulius Mikoliunas coming into the starting line-up.
The more defensively-minded formation was quickly under pressure as the Celtic support gave their side a rousing welcome. Shots from Shunsuke Nakamura, Jarosik and McGeady, plus a header from Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, tested Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon in a promising opening spell for the Hoops. Centre-back McManus should have done better when presented with a free header at goal from a corner, but he failed to hit the target from eight yards out.
Hearts had to substitute Julien Brellier after just 23 minutes, with the midfielder being replaced by Lithuanian Tomas Kancelskis. The Frenchman had been carrying an injury since the early stages and the change appeared to strengthen Hearts’ ability to frustrate an increasingly lacklustre Celtic.
Hearts caretaker boss Anatoliy Korobochka made another change at half-time, as Wallace returned to the back four in place of Goncalves. Yet the sedate pace continued after the break, with Celtic again doing most of the pressing.
However, it was Hearts who broke the deadlock when Nakamura was caught in possession.
Ghanian midfielder Larry Kingston broke clear with a driving run, but there appeared to be little danger when his pass reached Kestutis Ivaskevicius. The striker, who had offered little all afternoon, clipped the ball past three defenders and bundled it past goalkeeper Artur Boruc after 57 minutes.
Hearts increased their lead four minutes later when Kingston was upended on the edge of the box and Driver curled in an exquisite free-kick from more than 20 yards out into the top corner.
Celtic were back in the game within two minutes, though, as Nakamura’s cross found former Hearts captain Steven Pressley unmarked seven yards out to head home. But Hearts regained their two-goal advantage 20 minutes from time from the penalty spot. Kingston started and finished the move with some sublime skill before being felled by a Pressley body-check and Michal Pospisil netted from 12 yards.
Celtic: Boruc, Perrier Doumbe, Pressley, McManus, Naylor, Nakamura, Lennon (Gravesen 80), Hartley, McGeady (Riordan 81), Jarosik (Miller 73), Vennegoor of Hesselink.
Subs not used: Brown, O’Dea, Caldwell, Bjarnason.
Hearts: Gordon, Karipidis, Berra, Zaliukas, Goncalves (Wallace 46), Mikoliunas (McCann 72), Brellier (Kancelsku 24), Kingston, Ivaskevicius, Pospisil, Driver. Subs not used: Banks, Tall, Elliot, Bednar.
Referee: S Dougal.