Celtic 1 - 0 Hearts: To the Victor go the spoils as Hearts pay penalty in flare-up

A MADCAP end yesterday made it easy to forget the mundanity that had marked out the first 70 minutes. Maybe the transformation from tedious to terrifically tousy wasn’t entirely unrelated to the introduction of Scott Brown at half-time.

All right, so the Celtic captain didn’t send a sizzling, swerving shot into the top corner from 25 yards to earn his side a breakthrough that looked as if it might not come. That was Victor Wanyama. And he didn’t save the 87th penalty that prevented Hearts claiming an equaliser and halting Celtic’s SPL winning streak. That was Fraser Foster.

But Brown, wouldn’t you know, was at the centre of the post-match posturing and potty-mouthing between the players that may yet come to the attention of the SFA’s compliance officer.

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“I shouldn’t think so,” was Neil Lennon’s response to that suggestion. “I didn’t see it. I know there was a bit of pushing and shoving but not much to write about. I know there were things said to Scott when the penalty was awarded. And I think he was just giving a little bit of verbals back.”

Brown – praised by his manager for his “attitude and performance” and the manner he “drove” his team on was, in fact, giving a get-it-right-up-you, fists and all, to Jamie Hamill in lieu of the simple final-whistle handshake. That toy-town aggression, in turn, had Marius Zaliukas choking to get involved, a policeman seeming to block his path. Brown was then shepherded sharply down the tunnel by Georgios Samaras, continuing to pump fists as he disappeared. Hardly had he done so than James Forrest and Hearts first-team coach Gary Locke seemed to find themselves in a spat, with Locke also having a nip with Gary Hooper.

Who knows what they were all getting so hot and bothered about but chances are the circumstances surrounding the spot-kick award and the taking thereof were something, as well as the regular scything of Forrest in the second half, had caused tempers to fray. Lennon disputed Calum Murray’s decision to award a penalty for handball against Wanyama three minutes from the end. The lead-up was a corner from the right and a backheel from Stephen Elliott that Foster blocked before it bobbled up and was diverted as Ryan Stevenson and the arms-up Wanyama challenged for it.

“If you actually see where the ball goes it is impossible for Victor to play the ball in that direction with his hand, so I don’t know how much of a good view Calum got of it. I can understand a little bit why the decision was given as Victor has used his hands for leverage, but for me, he didn’t make contact with the ball and it came off Stevenson’s head.”

The ball then wasn’t put on the spot, according to Samaras, as Eggert Jonsson set himself to take it. Twice the Greek strayed into the penalty area to demand it be re-spotted, before Foster joined in with the pyschological warfare.

It worked, though only because Celtic’s keeper dived full length to his right and pushed the ball round the post with one hand. “He’s been due one,” Lennon said. “I kept saying to him; when are you going to save a penalty for us? He’s gone the right way, got a great hand to it, and I’m thrilled for him.”

The Celtic manager said he thought his team “thoroughly deserved” their win and “a little bit of justice was done”. It was their sixth straight league win and only once in the past three years have Celtic racked up more consecutive victories in the SPL. Lennon must have thought his side were shaping up to slip back to six points behind Rangers before Wanyama had his scoring moment.

There were two only passes, in the main, played during the first 45 minutes: the under-hit one and the over-hit one. Celtic dominated territorially and dominated possession.

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In consequence, however, they also dominated in the artless area of not applying the right cooking time before seeking to stroke the ball to a team-mate. As much as what it could mean for the title race, the intrigue surrounding the afternoon was how Hearts players would cope at the end of another desperate, depressing week without pay. It was hard to judge them. There was certainly no lack of willing and honest endeavour. But they succeeded to hang in with Celtic as much because the home side allowed them to as anything they themselves effected. Gary Hooper toe-poked round the post from close in when it looked easier to score after half an hour and Anthony Stokes had a header off the crossbar on the hour when Forrest placed the perfect cross on his head. In terms of chances Hearts, aside from the final five minutes, only had a turn and shot from six yards out by Scott Robinson early in the second period that gave the home supporters the hairies.

In playing a full role in the argy bargy at the close, they certainly allowed these fans to depart feeling they had been given their money’s worth. In the showbiz sense, if not the strictly footballing one.