Aiden McGeady announced his arrival on the big stage yesterday by hoisting Celtic to their century of Scottish Premier League goals as they earned a draw at Tynecastle. McGeady scored on his debut, barely days after celebrating his 18th birthday.
The Bhoys youngster has been carefully groomed for this appearance for some time, admitted Martin O'Neill, the Celtic manager, after this pulsating encounter and he did not disappoint with an eye-catching volley for the champions.
O'Neill's team have already sewn up the title, six games early, but there was nothing about this impassioned game that hinted at an end-of-season affair. Indeed, when Mark de Vries snatched an equaliser for Hearts after coming off the bench, that merely sent Tynecastle into a fervour as the Edinburgh club chased the winner that would have secured their place in the Uefa Cup again next season.
"I was delighted with Aiden's debut and his goal was wonderful," said O'Neill. "He has got wonderful ability and that is why we have had him training with us for some time and travelling with the side to Europe - this was the right time to bring him in.
"He didn't have too much time to think about it but he hit it brilliantly so he's delighted and absolutely thrilled to bits," O'Neill added. "He tried a clever trick on the far side which said 'Ronaldinho beware'. It certainly had the fans gasping."
McGeady made his mark after 17 minutes, peeling off at the back post to meet a free-kick from Stilian Petrov - earned after McGeady had lured Alan Maybury into a foul - and then clubbing a perfect drop volley with his right foot, in off Craig Gordon's post.
Andy Kirk could have equalised just after the half-hour when he beat the offside trap and raced clear, however the Celtic goalkeeper David Marshall defied the striker's initial shot and Kirk lashed the rebound over the bar.
McGeady could have helped Henrik Larsson add another to Celtic's lead with a sublime piece of skill, but Gordon cut out the threat and later Andy Webster was booked for cutting the teenager down.
However, Hearts' introduction of De Vries paid dividends when he equalised in the 73rd minute. The towering Dutchman pounced when Johan Mjallby missed Scott Severin's cross and thumped in an equally spectacular volley of his own.
Hearts launched a furious assault for the winner and were only denied when Marshall made a wonderful save from De Vries in stoppage time, throwing himself to dive and keep out the striker's long-range shot. "We feel we can take points off Celtic any time we meet the now," said Craig Levein, the Hearts manager.
However, some of the shine was taken of the day for many Hearts supporters when the chief executive, Chris Robinson, confirmed the club were still prepared to leave Tynecastle. "It is looking increasingly likely that we will stay at Tynecastle for another year," Robinson said. "Unfortunately we have no hope of staying here. We have a number of options to look at in the future but Tynecastle is no option."
Goals: McGeady (17) 0-1; De Vries (74) 1-1.
Hearts (3-5-2): Gordon; Pressley, Webster, Severin; Neilson, Stamp (Hamill, 26), Hartley, Kisnorbo (De Vries, 56), Maybury; McKenna, Kirk (Weir, 79). Substitutes not used: Moilanen (gk), MacFarlane.
Celtic (3-5-2): Marshall; Varga, Balde, Mjallby; Agathe, Lennon, Petrov, Miller, Smith; Larsson, McGeady (Beattie, 68). Substitutes not used: McGovern (gk), Sylla, Lambert, McManus.
Referee: K Clark (Scotland).
Booking: Hearts: Webster.
Man of the match: Lennon.
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