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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 February 2008, 17:14 GMT
Celtic 3-0 Hearts
By Martin Conaghan

Jan Venegoor of Hesselink
Jan Venegoor of Hesselink celebraqtes scoring Celtic's opener
Celtic narrowed the gap on Rangers at the top of the SPL table with a fine win over Hearts at Celtic Park.

Jan Venegoor of Hesselink opened the scoring with a 14th minute toe-poke after good work by Aiden McGeady.

Scott McDonald's simple header at the back post doubled Celtic's lead and added to his ever-mounting goal tally shortly after the break.

Andreas Hinkel picked up the third with a narrow-angled, close-range shot to give Celtic all three points.

The home side threatened immediately in the opening minutes when Scott Brown fired in a searching ball for Vennegoor of Hesselink to head in from close range, but the quick-witted Steve Banks soon cleared the danger.

Moments later, Shunsuke Nakamura lined up a free-kick when Eggert Jonsson fouled McDonald on the edge of the penalty area.

The Japanese dead-ball specialist delivered a powerful shot that scudded Banks' left-hand post, but McDonald was unable to capitalise on the subsequent rebound.

With 10 minutes played, Nakamura was again at the heart of the action when Venegoor of Hesselink fed a reverse pass on the edge of the penalty area, and the 29-year-old midfielder struck for goal, but once again Banks saved.

Aiden McGeady
Aiden McGeady was instrumental in Celtic's victory over Hearts

Celtic's hard work finally reaped a reward in the 14th minute following a Nakamura corner that bobbled around in the penalty area.

Aiden McGeady picked up the loose ball and weaved his way past the Hearts defence on the left-hand side of the box and flicked in a neat cross for the Dutchman to stab home his 12th goal of the season.

Despite the early deficit, Hearts' build-up play looked promising, but ultimately failed to present a significant threat to Artur Boruc's goal in the opening stages.

Andrew Driver broke free out on the left in the 18th minute, and Boruc abandoned his penalty area in an attempt to clear the danger, but the English midfielder had already over-reached and the ball drifted wide for goal kick.

Stephen McManus was called in to defensive action when Andrius Velicka looked set to connect with a drifting cross from Andrius Ksanavicius, but the 26-year-old Celtic captain headed a goal-bound effort over the bar to safety.

Shortly after the half-hour mark, Driver missed another golden opportunity to level the scores, but his shot was parried by Boruc and Velicka hit the side-netting on the rebound.

As the half-time whistle approached, Celtic remained the dominant side, but Hearts held out well to keep the score respectable at the break.

Shortly after the break, Celtic's new full-back Andreas Hinkel blasted in a powerful drive from the right-hand edge of the penalty area, but the direct effort went straight into the waiting arms of Banks.

At the other end, Driver picked up a long ball and outpaced the Celtic defence to line up a one-on-one with Boruc, but his final ball was feeble and Boruc saved easily.

With five minutes played of the second-half, McDonald notched up his 18th league goal of the season with a free header after Nakamura flighted in a corner from the left and the former Motherwell man was left unmarked to nod past Banks.

Hearts made an attempt to reply at the other end with a powerful right-footed shot from Velicka on the edge of the box after Boruc had surrendered possession.

Jonsson could have reduced Hearts' deficit in the 58th minute with a low drive, but couldn't significantly threaten Boruc.

With 60 minutes played, Celtic continued to force Hearts back and the visitors never looked likely to establish a foothold on the game.

Celtic confirmed their lead through Hinkel with 14 minutes remaining after the German international latched on to a loose ball on the left-hand side of the Hearts' penalty.

The 25-year-old full-back picked up a McGeady pass and sized up the narrow angle before blasting the ball high into the back of the net and effectively ending any hopes of a Hearts revival.

Bold efforts from McGeady and George Samaras in the dying minutes could have provided the home fans with a thrilling finale, but both were denied the final say.

Celtic now sit one point behind their city rivals Rangers in the SPL table, with the Ibrox side playing against Kilmarnock on Sunday.


Celtic: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor, Nakamura, Donati (Robson 77), Scott Brown, McGeady, McDonald (Hutchinson 87), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Samaras 73). Subs Not Used: Mark Brown, O'Dea, Sno, Hartley.

Goals: Vennegoor of Hesselink 14, McDonald 51, Hinkel 76.

Hearts: Banks, Neilson, Berra, Goncalves, Karipidis, Cesnauskis (Mikoliunas 68), Palazuelos, Jonsson, Driver, Velicka, Ksanavicius (Nade 72). Subs Not Used: Basso, Wallace, Zaliukas, McCann, Elliot.

Att: 56,738

Ref: D McDonald (Scotland).

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