"There's only one Gordon Strachan," bellowed the 59,000 partisans last night after Celtic won the Scottish Premier League title with six games to spare. It was the first time since Strachan arrived last year that he has been accorded such a tribute, and as he took it in, and waved, you could almost see the wee man shed a few of his spikes. Under pressure, few can be as prickly.
As for the three points that leave Celtic 20 points clear of second-placed Hearts and out of reach, it was John Hartson's early goal that earned them the title in a mediocre match that sparked to life late on. However, Hartson hinted afterwards that he still may leave in the summer.
The title triumph gives Strachan, in his debut managerial season in his native land, a memorable double, following the CIS Cup success last month. "I've had the honour of standing in the middle of the park as the manager of the champions and that's great," he said. "We don't claim to be a great team, yet, but we're 20 points clear and that says a lot. I can't quite believe it."
The Parkhead party was pure pain to Hearts, who saw their fiery interim coach, Valdas Ivanauskas, sent to the stands for kicking the dug-out in frustration. Last night was more of a must-win game for Hearts than for Celtic, because Hearts are in a head-to-head race with Rangers for the runners-up spot, and Champions' League football next season. The defeat leaves them a mere three points clear of Rangers, with a game at Ibrox among those still to come.
Last night, Celtic had a full-strength XI, Roy Keane aside. Hearts were without their injured captain, Stephen Pressley, and started with their top scorer, Rudi Skacel, on the bench.
Pressley was badly missed in the fourth minute when a long ball from the home defence was nodded on by Majiec Zurawski into the path of his strike partner, Hartson. The big Welshman was still 30 yards out, but untroubled by Pressley's inexperienced deputy, Christophe Berra. He powered forward, waited for the ball to bounce, and then thundered in a right-footed half-volley from 22 yards.
Hearts thought they had an equaliser five minutes into the second half when Paul Hartley's free-kick was eventually bundled in by Andy Webster. Offside, said the linesman, a dubious decision that caused Ivanauskas to hurtle down the touchline to berate him.
The visitors, more urgent now, went close with Roman Bednar's angled, trickling shot. Celtic became animated, at last, with Hartson bustling and Stilian Petrov busy behind him. Hearts got physical, with Hartley kicking high and Takis Fyssas booked for scything down Petrov. Ivanaus-kas flipped and got his marching orders. Strachan got a place in Celtic history.
Celtic (4-1-3-2): Boruc; Telfer, Baldé, McManus, Wilson; Lennon; Nakamura (Pearson, 58), Petrov, Maloney (McGeady, 82); Hartson (Dublin, 69), Zurawski. Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Thompson, Varga, Wallace.
Heart of Midlothian (4-1-3-2): Gordon; Neilson, Webster, Berra, Fyssas; Brellier (Elliot, 85); Cesnauskis, Hartley, Mikoliunas (Skacel, 62); Jankauskas (Pospisil, 54), Bednar. Substitutes not used: Banks (gk), Tall, Aguiar, Petras.
Referee: D McDonald.Reuse content