Juninho thrills the faithful as O'Neill looks towards Europe

Celtic 3 - Heart of Midlothian 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

A perilous journey to the east awaits Celtic this week, so the ascent of a star yester-day was welcome as Juninho delivered his first goal since moving to Parkhead.

A perilous journey to the east awaits Celtic this week, so the ascent of a star yester-day was welcome as Juninho delivered his first goal since moving to Parkhead.

The Brazilian had been a touch profligate since his move from Middlesbrough, but a sublime solo effort had 58,000 followers off their feet in acclamation as Martin O'Neill's side secured a huge boost ahead of Wednesday's crucial Champions' League encounter in Ukraine.

Celtic have to beat Shakthtar Donetsk to keep their ambitions alive, and if Henri Camara and John Hartson are able to supply the ruthless finishing they showed against another of the Scottish Premier League's European representatives, the task is not beyond them.

The last encounter between these teams here was dripping with so much drama - with Celtic coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the last three minutes to rescue a draw - that you would have thought that no one would have tried to leave this one early.

Craig Levein, though, had other plans. The Hearts manager was caught in a dilemma because of his need to see this Thursday's Uefa Cup opponents, Feyenoord, in action in Holland today. He was forced to make plans to leave at half-time so that he could catch a flight to Amsterdam.

Levein insisted it would not pose a problem, and certainly his side's first-half display was characterised by an oppressive organisation. It seemed as if Hearts were trying to take the sting out of the champions before the manager departed.

Hearts sat in with a 4-5-1 formation and committed 18 fouls, earning three bookings. Celtic put the ball in the net after 20 minutes when, from one of the many free-kicks, Camara's diving header beat Craig Gordon only to be ruled offside.

The solitary moment of Hearts danger came five minutes later when Alan Maybury danced around Stan Varga and Neil Lennon to set up Paul Hartley, whose raking shot was pushed wide.

The incessant Celtic pressure, though, was stretching Hearts to the limit. Just four minutes before the interval, Didier Agathe's deft cutback was stepped over by Camara for Hartson to whip in a shot that Gordon saved, but the dam broke with the very next attack. Chris Sutton's angled cross was headed down by the unselfish Hartson, and Camara rifled a right-foot volley into the net.

Twelve minutes into the second half, Celtic took this contest by the jugular when Juninho provided the moment that Parkhead craved. The little Brazilian seized on some loose Hearts play on the right and embarked on a great run, exchanging passes sweetly with Hartson before advancing and side-footing a shot beyond Gordon.

Hearts, though, were given a chance to gain a foothold in the 69th minute when they were awarded a penalty after Phil Stamp flicked the ball over Jackie McNamara. It appeared to hit the Celtic captain's chest rather than his hand, but the debate was quelled when Steven Pressley's kick struck the post, the first time in 13 attempts he has missed from the spot.

Eight minutes from time, Celtic added a final flourish to their display when Hartson scored with a fine header from Ross Wallace's cross just a few seconds seconds after Gordon had denied Juninho another goal.

Comments