Celtic's slip opens up race for title

Celtic 0 - Hearts 2
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The Independent Football

Hearts performed some radical surgery in the Scottish Premier League title race by carving it wide open with their first win at Parkhead in five years. Lee Miller and Mark Burchill profited from some slack defending in the opening 20 minutes as Celtic succumbed to a costly stumble with just seven games left.

Hearts performed some radical surgery in the Scottish Premier League title race by carving it wide open with their first win at Parkhead in five years. Lee Miller and Mark Burchill profited from some slack defending in the opening 20 minutes as Celtic succumbed to a costly stumble with just seven games left.

That means Rangers could regain top spot if they win at Motherwell today. But the champions will be hoping their rivals suffer from the same anxiety.

Though nine of Martin O'Neill's team had been away on international duty in midweek, Celtic opened with real zest. However, the champions were stunned after just eight minutes when Hearts went in front with their first attack of the game. Marius Kizys' curling free-kick was not attacked by Celtic's towering back three and Andy Webster produced a header that goalkeeper David Marshall was forced to change direction to parry out. However, Miller reacted quickest to seize on the rebound and head it in.

John Hartson might have restored parity within minutes, but failed to keep his header down from Aiden McGeady's free-kick, but Celtic's task took on immense proportions when Burchill doubled Hearts' lead after 20 minutes.

The former Celtic striker profited from a dreadful error by Stéphane Henchoz, who needlessly headed a simple clearance straight to Miller whose threaded pass picked out Burchill's intelligent run and he then stroked a composed left-foot finish past Marshall.

The laborious Henchoz was removed by O'Neill before the interval as Celtic stepped up the tempo. Stilian Petrov's venomous 30-yard shot was spilled by Craig Gordon, but Craig Bellamy failed to finish that off and then a flowing move saw Hartson and Bellamy set up Ross Wallace, but with just the goalkeeper to beat, the substitute dragged his shot wide.

Not surprisingly, the second half was characterised by intense Celtic pressure as the hosts won 13 corners. However, it was a move from open play that carved out Celtic's best chance just after the hour.

Wallace combined with Alan Thompson for the latter to deliver a menacing low cross that picked out Hartson's run. The Wales striker diverted the ball with the outside of his right boot and it seemed certain to find the roof of the net until Gordon arched backwards and touched the ball over the bar.

McGeady was next to feed Hartson with a corner that was headed narrowly wide, but Celtic's desperation for a goal left them exposed and the visitors could have stolen at least three more in the dying stages as they exploited the huge spaces. But by then the damage had been done.

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