Hartson displays deft touch to boost Celtic

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The Independent Football

John Hartson has had many labels imposed on him, but ''subtle'' has never been one of them. The robust Welshman, however, appears to be learning that deftness is an asset on and off the pitch.

Celtic's under-pressure striker came up with two goals on Saturday in the 3-0 defeat of Hibernian, a day when the champions' lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League table stretched to 12 points as Rangers' trio of front men – Tore Andre Flo, Claudio Caniggia and Shota Arveladze – could not even find the net once between them.

The £6m signing from Coventry City was given a standing ovation by the 59,000 Parkhead crowd as much for his labour in setting up Neil Lennon's goal as for the one he described as "the best goal of my life''.

Yet Hartson fears that his wonder goal – a delicate chip on the run from 25 metres over goalkeeper Tony Caig – will not prevent him from being back on the bench for Thursday's vital Uefa Cup tie with Valencia.

Chris Sutton – for whom Hartson deputised in the first match with the Spanish side and the Old Firm win over Rangers – is back in the picture after an improvement in the health of his seriously-ill baby son.

Sutton played on Saturday, though in central defence, so that Hartson could be accommodated as Henrik Larsson's partner up front and his double – the first was a more traditional Hartson header – extended his haul to seven goals.

However, Hartson seems to be casting off his bull-in-a-china shop approach. ''It's not for me to shout my mouth off about being in the team," he said. "I've, perhaps, given Martin O'Neill a selection problem but the manager has been great with me since I came and has played me whenever he can. But he has gone with his favoured two, Henrik and Chris, ahead of me for almost all the European games."

O'Neill said: ''John could have gone elsewhere in England, but chose here because of the lure of European football. However, he is a player who needs to be playing regularly to keep his fitness – he's given me selection problems for Valencia."

Dick Advocaat enjoyed no such luxury as the Rangers manager saw his team fail to bounce back after the Old Firm defeat with a scoreless draw at Dundee which further diminishes their title hopes.

Indeed, with Paris St-Germain waiting in the Uefa Cup on Thursday, confidence will have been eroded by the way Dundee outplayed them in the first half when only a superb save by goalkeeper Stefan Klos denied Fabian Caballero.

Advocaat refuses to concede the title race is over, though, and insisted: "It is going to be difficult but we still have to believe in ourselves. We have not put our chances away in the last two games."

Livingston's run continues as they maintained their push for a Uefa Cup place by beating Motherwell 3-1 at home. Davide Xausa scored his second double in two matches.

Aberdeen are also pushing for a European place thanks to Robbie Winter's sixth goal in seven games which secured a 1-0 win over St Johnstone. Almost 18,000 fans watched an eighth successive Pittodrie success – a run not seen since 1984 under Alex Ferguson.

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