Moravcik lifts gloom over Parkhead

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The Independent Online

The Romans used bread and circuses to stem insurrection, but Celtic managers just wheel out Lubomir Moravcik. The diminutive playmaker bought Jozef Venglos a stay of execution a year ago, and yesterday he took the heat off John Barnes.

The Romans used bread and circuses to stem insurrection, but Celtic managers just wheel out Lubomir Moravcik. The diminutive playmaker bought Jozef Venglos a stay of execution a year ago, and yesterday he took the heat off John Barnes.

Two goals from the sublime Slovakian, one a contender for the goal of the season, took the focus, briefly, off Celtic's under-pressure coach. Hapless Hibernian were so driven to distraction that, even after Moravcik had left to a standing ovation, they were powerless to prevent Morten Wieghorst embellishing the scoreline in the 86th minute with an audacious chip from the edge of the box.

Barnes has scarcely been off the back pages in Scotland all week, despite Rangers losing twice in two games. The former Liverpool idol spent his entire pre-match press conference on Friday fending off claims of dressing-room revolt after Craig Burley's acrimonious departure to Derby and even Kenny Dalglish, Celtic's director of football, was wheeled out to back the man he hired.

If Barnes thought match day would lessen the scrutiny, he was to be disappointed. With every other Scottish Premier League game cancelled, the focus was on Celtic as Parkhead remained an oasis of green amid Scotland's winter wonderland.

Yet if the players nursed a grievance towards their coach, it did not show as Celtic played possibly their best football in months - it was 20 minutes before they even misplaced a pass. Their confidence bordered on arrogance: Eyal Berkovic ought to have scored after Moravcik waltzed round Derek Collins twice, but the Israeli midfielder's casual side-footed shot allowed Shaun Dennis to make a crucial block on the line.

However, the inevitable was delayed for only 18 minutes, until Dennis pulled Mark Viduka down in the box. The Celtic striker's theatrical diving always lends an air of doubt to his appeals, but there was little debate about the way he stroked his kick past Nick Colgan.

Eleven minutes later, Moravcik doubled the lead with a sublime goal. Viduka flicked Alan Stubbs' long ball into the path of the little Slovakian, who feinted to shoot with his right, swivelled to lose his marker, John Hughes, and curled a left-foot shot beyond Colgan.

Thereafter, Celtic played within themselves, though Moravcik ought to have buried Jackie McNamara's fine cross five minutes into the second half with a back-post header, but it strayed over the bar.

However, Moravcik simply could not miss the next header to come his way, when he stretched Celtic's lead further in the 58th minute. It was a mesmerising nine-pass move which cut Hibernian open, with the crucial element being the one-two between Viduka and Johan Mjallby, which allowed Viduka to take the return on his chest and clip the ball over Colgan for Moravcik to stoop and head the ball over the line.

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