Sutton's double sinks Hearts

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Chris Sutton continued his rehabilitation with two goals which extended Celtic's flawless start under Martin O'Neill on a day when Scotland's two title pretenders had flair to match their ambition.

Chris Sutton continued his rehabilitation with two goals which extended Celtic's flawless start under Martin O'Neill on a day when Scotland's two title pretenders had flair to match their ambition.

Rangers may provide a more searching examination in next Sunday's Old Firm encounter, but not even that occasion could match this. Even when Hearts looked dead at three goals adrift, they twice came back with stunning strikes from Scott Severin and Juanjo. Who said Scottish football was boring?

Ironically, given Celtic's gluttony for goals, it took the superb reactions of their goalkeeper, Jonathan Gould, to prevent Gary McSwegan finishing Darren Jackson's deft cutback in the 21st minute, pushing the striker's shot wide, and from the subsequent corner Gould eclipsed that by getting down to block Lee Makel's fierce drive.

There was no such barrier to keep Sutton out just two minutes later. Henrik Larsson's role was crucial, hounding the Hearts defenders enough to coax Gary Naysmith into clearing straight to Bobby Petta. The Celtic winger picked out Sutton and the striker's diving header gave the goalkeeper, Antti Niemi, no chance.

Gould's role in establishing Celtic's command, however, was equal to that of the £6m man. Only a minute later, the keeper got down to his right to beat out Scott Severin's drilled shot from Colin Cameron's short free-kick. The save was pivotal: Celtic went down the pitch and doubled their lead. Again Petta was the provider, this time with a corner, andSutton eluded Severin's marking to power another header past Niemi.

Hearts' intense pressure to retrieve a goal before half-time blew up in their faces when Larsson scored Celtic's third in the 40th minute. Lubomir Moravcik's free-kick was headed out to Paul Lambert and the Celtic captain's venomous shot looked to be endangering Niemi until Larsson, hidden in the mêlée, stuck out a foot for the vital deflection.

When Larsson uncharacteristically missed a penalty two minutes into the second half, after Severin was adjudged to have shoved Sutton, it seemed like an act of mercy. Instead, it offered some life support for Hearts. Ten minutes later, Severin reduced the deficit with an identical free-kick routine to the one in the first half, moving on to Cameron's set-up and thrashing in a low, right-foot shot.

Moravcik restored Celtic's cushion in the 63rd minute with some sublime football after the referee Willie Young wisely allowed play to continue despite a foul on Larsson on the edge of the box. Moravcik held off two challenges before thumping his shot past Niemi off the underside of the bar.

Perhaps that deluded Celtic into thinking Hearts were buried. They were not, and the substitute Kris O'Neil danced past three tackles before deliv-ering a cross to the back post which was spectacularly voll-eyed in by Juanjo.

Comments