RECALLED Scotland international Gary McSwegan was the hero at Tynecastle as Hearts kept their European dream alive by beating ten-man Celtic in a dramatic match.
The game was won and lost in a four-minute spell in the first half which saw Paul Lambert sent off for two fouls on Darren Jackson in the 34th minute, then McSwegan driving home from eight yards out four minutes later.
It was no more than Hearts deserved after one of their best performances of the season.
Hugh Dallas dished out 10 yellow cards with a 7-3 split to the detriment of Celtic that included a pair shown to Lambert, who was sent off for his second cautionable offence in the 32nd minute. From that point the game was up for a Celtic side who were lightweight and lost in midfield, and possessing little in the way of threat.
Indeed, Hearts ought to have taken the three points by a more convincing margin; McSwegan converted an opportunist strike having passed up the chance to make the most of two in a similar bracket minutes earlier.
The Glasgow club are a different prospect on unfamiliar soil, and there were passages of the first half during which Hearts threatened completely to overwhelm them.
Hearts quickly extricated themselves from a midfield clutter that had much to do with Celtic’s odd formation. In the absence of the injured Mark Viduka, Tommy Johnson flew solo up-front with little or no support offered from a five-man midfield that had no-one capable of the accomplished interventions to which we were treated from the delightful playmaker, Colin Cameron.
In the ninth minute, he smacked a volley that required Jonathan Gould to be springheeled to claw it to safety. With the midfielder providing the craft and Jackson scavenging away in typically-niggly fashion, Hearts imposed themselves and stretched a lumpen Celtic.
Eyal Berkovic was forced to feel the boot leather and bones of his opponents, a body check from Lee Makel in the 12th minute allowing Dallas to administer a yellow card in that irritating school-masterly way of his. Within six minutes he had brandished the same colour twice more, to Lambert and Regi Blinker.
Lambert, predictably, went ape, railing against referee and fourth official, and threatening to return to the scene.
In the 36th minute, Celtic succumbed to defensive fragility. An inswinging Jackson corner was the set-up, Blinker blocking a Gordan Petric header only for McSwegan to slam the follow-up over a congested goal-line.
The timidity of Celtic’s second-half comeback was such that the principal cage-rattling was confined to Jackson and Lubo Moravcik squaring up to one another after the Slovakian went over the top on a challenge on the midfielder.
Hearts: Niemi, Flogel, Naysmith, Petric, Pressley, Cameron, Jackson, McSwegan, Adam, Makel, Tomaschek.