Celtic face Hearts stopper

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The Independent Online

Celtic and Hearts seem to be in a two-horse race for the title so it is fitting that their meeting at Tynecastle tomorrow, when the hosts will try to close the four-point gap on the Glasgow giants, is the only game in town, or indeed in Britain.

Both clubs have had roller-coaster years. Celtic lost the 2004-05 title race in the final minutes, then lost a manager, Martin O'Neill, gained a replacement, Gordon Strachan, endured European humiliation and a dodgy domestic start and have since rallied to make themselves title favourites.

Hearts have been taken over by a Lithuanian multi-millionaire and took the SPL by storm before dispensing with George Burley, one of four managers to have been in charge in 2005. They have also lost a chairman, a chief executive and an invincibility that captivated in the opening months and fell away with the appointment of Graham Rix.

Even recent weeks have seen fresh swings of fortune, with Celtic winning the race for Roy Keane's signature while stuttering to a draw with Inverness and a last-gasp win over Livingston, in which Bobo Baldé made a defensive boob to highlight their defensive frailties.

Hearts, with only one win in five before Boxing Day, surged back to form by thrashing Falkirk 5-0, with a first pair of goals for the home-reared teenager Calum Elliot.

Strachan expects a difficult, physical game, and has warned his players that Hearts will be "in their faces". Talking about eradicating errors such as Baldé's, he added: "What can you say? I can't put bamboo shoots up his fingernails. You just have to make people aware of cutting out mistakes."

Fifth-placed Rangers, who start the weekend 17 points behind Celtic, host Dundee United today without eight injured players and two more unavailable through suspension. Third-place Hibernian travel to fourth-placed Kilmarnock on Monday.

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