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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 21:45 GMT
Larsson brace sinks Hearts
Larsson proved to be Celtic's match-winner once more
Larsson proved to be Celtic's match-winner once more
Celtic 2-0 Hearts

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Henrik Larsson stole the headlines again with two late goals against visitors Hearts on Wednesday night.

Despite his wonder strike against St Johnstone on Saturday, the Swede and his team-mates looked to be desperately short of form as the Edinburgh outfit threatened to cause an upset.

Larsson yet again proved his worth, though, remaining focused after being guilty of missing a number of chances, to bag a brace and take tally to 25 goals for the season.

Hearts were criticised the last time they came to Parkhead for being too negative, but this time around they came in a much more positive mood.

The league leaders started poorly, and Hearts must have thought that this was their chance to claim a shock win.

Celtic's Petta rides a tackle
Celtic's Petta rides a tackle

It took until the 20th minute for the home side to launch their first attack.

Jackie McNamara exchanged passes with John Hartson but Hearts defender Steven Pressley made a vital tackle to prevent him getting a shot away.

Two minutes later they went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock after an uncharacteristic mistake by Pressley.

The Scotland international was dispossessed by Alan Thompson, who went through one on one with Niemi, but the former Rangers keeper made a good save, tipping the ball around the post.

The home side continued to struggle with the pace of Ricardo Fuller on the break and they were fortunate not to fall a goal behind for the second time in four days.

He shrugged off the attentions of Joos Valgaeren and sprinted away before drilling a right-foot shot towards Johan Mjallby, who somehow managed to scoop the effort over the bar.

Larsson soon got presented with two good chances to give his side the lead, but squandered both of them.

O'Neill rocket

John Hartson was also guilty of missing a good chance, blasting his right-foot shot straight at Niemi following Thompson's fine cross.

Hearts were finally being put under some sustained pressure as the home crowd spurred Celtic on and Steve Fulton needed to clear Balde's header off the line from McNamara's corner.

But the home side just could not force the ball home.

Celtic boss Martin O'Neill must have had some strong words for his side at the break, but still they failed to get into their customary stride.

Hartson was making a nuisance of himself and he got on the end of Thompson's free-kick, but again aimed his header straight at Niemi.

Celts rewarded

Larsson was struggling to get it going, but his confidence was evidently still there as he chipped a right-foot effort over Niemi and just past the post from just inside the box.

Hartson squandered another chance in the 72nd minute when Thompson delivered a perfect cross, but he headed just over the crossbar from six yards.

Celtic, however, refused to give up and were rewarded with 10 minutes to go.

Larsson steered his header from Thompson's left-wing cross past Niemi to finally break the deadlock.

That seemed to lift him to another level and he confirmed his return to form with five minutes left with an emphatic right-foot volley past Niemi from Moravcik's cross.

Celtic: Douglas, Mjallby, Balde, Valgaeren, McNamara, Lennon, Lambert, Thompson, Petta (Moravcik 66), Larsson, Hartson.
Subs Not Used: Gould, Boyd, Maloney, Smith.
Booked: Mjallby.
Goals: Larsson 80, 86.

Hearts: Niemi, Flogel, Pressley, Webster, Mahe, Simmons, Severin, Gronlund (Boyack 83), Fulton (Kirk 83), Fuller, Wales (Adam 78).
Subs Not Used: McKenzie, McCann.
Booked: Gronlund, Adam.

Att: 57,203

Ref: B Orr (Scotland).

BBC Sport's Alistair Alexander
"Celtic struggled to find their scoring touch"
Celtic boss Martin O'Neill
"We upped the tempo in the second half and deserved to win"
Hearts boss Craig Levein
"We played as well as Celtic allowed us"
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