Hartson hunger inspires Celtic goal feast

Celtic 7 Aberdeen 0

John Hartson has been accused of gluttony before, but yesterday he pursued a more acceptable form of greed as he helped himself to four goals in Celtic's rout to trim Rangers' lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League.

Just one point – and only two goals – separate the bitter rivals after the Welsh striker, who has been living on meagre rations in terms of playing time, took advantage of a rare start in Martin O'Neill's side.

Hartson's hunger will have been noted, not just across Glasgow, but several hundred miles away in Lancashire. His brief, but successful, outing in the Uefa Cup encounter with Blackburn Rovers prompted his inclusion against Aberdeen, with Chris Sutton dropping behind a front two of Hartson and Henrik Larsson

"I am delighted for John," O'Neill said later. "He could have scored more but he was unselfish on a few more occasions when he could have scored."

Aberdeen had been suffering from a virus which decimated their squad last week and forced the postponement of a game against Motherwell, but their manager Ebbe Skovdahl said: "There are no excuses." The goal rush was initiated by Hartson after 25 minutes in which the visitors had been the better side. Steve Guppy's cross was met firmly by Hartson's head, which put the ball beyond the reach of goalkeeper David Preece.

Nine minutes later, the game was out of reach too. Larsson beat the offside trap and his low cross was sidefooted in by the Welshman. Larsson made it 3-0 just before the interval, with a stunning free-kick from 30 yards.

Hartson, though, was on a quest. He obtained his hat-trick in the 51st minute, after Alan Thompson had hooked a poor clearance back into his path, by steering a dipping shot over Preece.

By this time, everyone was keen to grab a goal and Bobo Baldé scored the fifth in the 71st minute. The big defender showed a hidden side to his game by thrashing a fierce 18-yard shot beyond the hapless Preece.

Hartson sealed his contribution in the 81st minute, before offering a hand of gratitude to Mohamed Sylla, whose run down the right flank ended with a cutback that the striker could not refuse, drilling in a right-foot shot.

But there others at Parkhead who are as hungry as Hartson. Shaun Maloney has had to make do with even fewer outings, but his introduction as substitute allowed the teenager to add a final goal, as he clipped an 86th-minute free-kick into the roof of the net from 30 yards.

Goals: Hartson (25) 1-0; Hartson (34) 2-0; Larsson (43) 3-0; Hartson (51) 4-0; Baldé (71) 5-0; Hartson (81) 6-0; Maloney (86) 7-0.

Celtic (3-4-1-2): Douglas; Valgaeren, Baldé, Laursen (Crainey, 72); Sylla, Petrov (Maloney, 72), Thompson (Fernandez, 72), Guppy; Sutton; Larsson, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Gould (gk), Smith.

Aberdeen (4-4-2): Preece; Rutkiewicz (Billio, 74), Anderson, McGuire, McAllister; Bisconti (Tiernan, 66), Darren Young, Deloumeaux, Derek Young (Mike, 66); Fabiano, Michie. Substitutes not used: Peat (gk), O'Donoghue.

Referee: H Dallas.

Bookings: Aberdeen: McGuire, Bisconti.

Man of the match: Hartson.

Attendance: 58,526.

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