Football: Hearts throw down gauntlet to the Old Firm

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The Independent Online
Heart of Midlothian are proving there is more to Scottish football than two teams from Glasgow. While every observer waits for the bubble to burst, the Edinburgh side continue their defiance, a 4-1 win at Pittodrie taking them into top place ahead of Celtic by virtue of the fact that they have scored more goals.

They showed commendable character to come back from a half-time deficit to secure victory with goals from Neil McCann, a Thomas Flogel double and an own goal by Gary Smith to send a message to the Old Firm that perhaps this time a serious challenge will be made to their domination.

"We have never shouted that we are going to win the title, but we're showing consistency which is important," Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, said. "We will be the target for everyone so we have to make sure we show them why we're top and show the arrogance needed to stay there."

Although Hearts have performed well, the shadow of the Old Firm threatens to cloud their dreams. Celtic are level on points, while Rangers are a single point behind as both prepare for Saturday's first meeting of the season between the two. Hearts will, of course, maintain their position if they can beat Hibernian, but for the first time in several years Celtic will approach a Rangers encounter from a position of superiority.

Their 2-0 win over Dunfermline cemented the impression that they are capable of securing results when not at their best.

Rangers, however, have a goal difference which is vastly superior and for that they can thank Marco Negri, whose hat-trick on Saturday took his total to 26 goals in 17 games. Rangers, however, came close to an upset, and needed three goals in the last five minutes to dispose of Kilmarnock 4-1.

St Johnstone are the unlikely occupants of fourth place after a 4-3 win over Motherwell in a bizarre match at Perth. The home side were 4-0 ahead when Motherwell came back, missed a penalty, then scored three times to come close to the comeback of the season.

Dundee United continued their march up the table with their fourth successive win, a 3-1 victory over Hibs.