Celtic dug deep into their reservoir of character to snatch a remarkable victory at Parkhead yesterday and deal a hammer blow to Hearts' Scottish Premier League title hopes.
With four minutes left, the Edinburgh side seemed poised to cut the gap on the leaders to seven points thanks to Andrius Velicka's predatory finish, but Celtic overcame their Champions' League hangover when Jiri Jarosik's headed equaliser then led to a dramatic winner deep into stoppage time, which was credited as an own goal by the Hearts goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, who could not keep out Stephen McManus's shot.
Gordon Strachan could not believe his team's resurrection. "To come back like that after going behind and losing to Benfica in midweek was fantastic," said the Celtic manager. So much has happened since these teams last met, back on 6 August, when Hearts snatched a late winner at Tynecastle. The off-the-pitch turmoil, which has seen the manager, Valdas Ivanauskas, take sick leave to recover from stress and the players revolt against the owner, Vladimir Romanov, to make public the "significant dressing room unrest", has undermined that early promise.
It took Celtic 19 minutes before they could find a way through Hearts' well-organised defence when Shunsuke Nakamura curled in a left-foot shot which was saved by Gordon.
However, Hearts' fierce pressing game eventually wrested control of the contest. They created several chances around the half hour, with Saulius Mikoliunas squandering the fine pass by Bruno Aguiar which released him by striking his shot against Artur Boruc.
Then Deividas Cesnauskis's pace carved Celtic open before cutting the ball into the path of Velicka, who scuffed his effort with the goal at his mercy. Celtic responded by introducing Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink for the second half, but it was Hearts who still carried more menace. Mikoliunas pounced on a Paul Telfer error on the far touchline but, with just Boruc to beat, he put it wide.
Celtic could not say they had not been warned. In the 72nd minute, a misplaced Telfer pass was seized upon by Aguiar and he released Velicka for the striker to dance round McManus before steering a composed finish past Boruc.
Parkhead was stunned into silence apart from the 1,000 visiting fans. Strachan brought on Jarosik and Shaun Maloney as he frantically tried to retrieve the situation, and it paid off when Jarosik restored parity.
The former Chelsea player met Nakamura's corner to bury a firm header beyond Gordon, and suddenly Celtic sensed a comeback was on. Hearts' time-wasting came back to haunt them and in the fourth minute of stoppage time Parkhead erupted. Another Nakamura corner caused chaos and Gary Caldwell scooped it into McManus, whose stabbed effort was parried into his own net by Gordon.Reuse content