Hearts 1 - 1 Celtic: Aguiar strike earns Jambos a point
Goals: Celtic - Vennegoor of Hesselink 1; Hearts - Aguiar 32
A STUPEFYING free-kick from the Portuguese midfielder Bruno Aguiar was the highlight of a tumultuous match between Hearts and Celtic as both sides fought out an enthralling draw at Tynecastle.
The teams went full throttle for one another in front of the Setanta cameras and the result was an engrossing match that demanded full attention from first minute to last. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink opened the scoring in the first minute but Aguiar arced a superb equalising set-piece past Artur Boruc just after the half hour.
Csaba Laszlo, the Hearts manager, spoke before the game of his belief that the Old Firm are not untouchable in Scottish football and that it was possible for other clubs to mount a serious challenge. His players took his words quite literally with an inspired performance which left Celtic knowing they had been in a proper match in Gorgie,
Laszlo's best-laid pre-match plans were undone after just 27 seconds, however. Andreas Hinkel's cross from the right flank was converted by the right foot of Vennegoor of Hesselink, who spun to angle the ball away from the diving Janos Balogh. The Hungarian looked culpable by allowing the ball to squirm beneath him and into the net.
The hosts then went on the ascendency and forced a series of corners, the end result being Marius Zaliukas' header which sailed narrowly over the Celtic crossbar. With Calum Elliot and Aguiar enduring some particularly physical treatment at the hands of their respective markers, Stephen McManus and Gary Caldwell, it quickly became apparent that quick-fire balls through the middle would yield little success for Hearts. They looked to referee Craig Thomson for protection but received nothing, instead finding themselves regularly penalised while many Celtic infringements - one notable barge by Lee Naylor on Andy Driver in the corner - went unpunished during the early stages.
Celtic forced two successive corners in the 20th minute, the second of which saw Vennegoor of Hesselink's glancing header strike the outside of Balogh's left post. At that point Hearts were enjoying the lion's share of possession without genuinely threatening, however that changed shortly after the half hour when Michael Stewart won a free-kick 20 yards from goal following a trip by Caldwell. Aguiar stepped up and curved a beautiful looping effort over the wall and past Boruc to the delight of the Tynecastle natives. An rip-snorting encounter was now in full flow, and it was the home side in command as the first half drew to a close.
Gordon Strachan, the visiting manager, replaced captain Stephen McManus with Marc Crosas during the interval and shunted Caldwell back to central defence. Hearts further asserted themselves when the match restarted and Marius Zaliukas was unfortunate to see his drive from distance finish wide after his gallop forward from defence.
Both sides remained committed to attacking football so the entertainment value did not drop. In particular, the Spaniard Ruben Palazuelos was impressive as the anchor in the home midfield and often overshadowed his direct opponent, Scott Brown. He helped perpetrate the short, sharp passing game which Celtic were toiling to combat. However, Hearts were also aware of their visitors' pace going forward with Shunsuke Nakamura having replaced the ineffective Willo Flood.
From two successive corners by the Japanese, Glenn Loovens sent the ball over the crossbar from a central position inside the penalty area. Then the Dutchman misplaced a header in his own box from Robbie Neilson's long throw, but Driver's first time shot on the drop was off target. The game was now end-to-end and Balogh held a low strike from Nakamura in the 80th minute.
Was there to be a late twist? Laszlo introduced Christian Nade and Mike Tullberg hoping to accord his side fresh initiative but it was Zaliukas who denied Celtic a likely goal two minutes from time with an inspired block on Nakamura's shot. Moments later substitute Koki Mizuno then unleashed a powerful first-time shot which was only narrowly off-target.
The afternoon ended with honours even as Hearts proved they can, on their day, match anyone.
Hearts (4-4-1-1): Balogh; Neilson, Karipidis, Zaliukas, Wallace; Obua, Stewart, Palazuelos, Driver; Aguiar; Elliot. Subs: MacDonald, Tullberg 86 (for Aguiar), Nade 76 (for Elliot), Mrowiec, Cesnauskis, Jonsson, Templeton.
Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel, Loovens, McManus, Naylor; Flood, Caldwell, Brown, McGeady; Vennegoor of Hesselink, McDonald. Subs: Brown, Ferry, Misun, Maloney, Mizuno 82 (for McGeady), Crosas 46 (for McManus), Nakamura 56 (for Flood).
Referee: Craig Thomson.
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