Hearts 1 Celtic 2
Celtic stormed back from a goal behind to beat Hearts at Tynecastle and restore their lead at the top of the Bank of Scotland Premier League to 17 points.
Jambos’ midfielder Saulius Mikoliunas fired his side into a first-half lead with a spectacular drive from 30 yards but 14 minutes after the break Hoops striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink equalised from close range.
And in the 81st minute Jiri Jarosik’s powerful drive from the edge of the box gave Celtic three points that had looked unlikely at the interval.
Once again the champions showed their resilience to win while not playing at their best and the victory would have been all the sweeter for Celtic stand-in skipper Steven Pressley , who returned to Tynecastle for the first time since joining the Parkhead side in the transfer window.
The Scotland defender was given a mostly positive reaction from the Gorgie faithful as he led the visitors out. The majority of the Tynecastle fans chose to remember the service he gave Hearts during the eight-and-a-half seasons he was at the club rather than castigate him for leaving after his dispute with majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov.
And despite a poor start to the match for the Parkhead side, Pressley’s return ended in joy.
The battle for early dominance took place against the backdrop of a swirling wind which made life difficult for the players, and there was little early action.
Hearts were dealt a blow halfway through the first half when right-back Nerijus Barasa had to be replaced by Ibrahim Tall after picking up an injury.
In the 27th minute Jambos defender Takis Fyssas easily brushed off challenges from Evander Sno and Shunsuke Nakamura before sliding the ball to Mikoliunas, but the Lithuanian’s drive was saved by Artur Boruc.
However, a minute later the Gorgie midfielder fired the side into the lead with a stunning strike from 30 yards.
Fyssas played the ball up to Roman Bednar who held it up before laying it off to the Lithuanian who drove spectacularly past the helpless Boruc.
The Polish international appeared to be caught out by the flight of the ball but that did not matter to the jubilant Gorgie fans who gleefully taunted Pressley.
Then, in a dramatic 60-second period just before the break, the home side had two chances to score their second.
Following a slick breakaway, Bednar played in Andrew Driver, whose shot was brilliantly saved by Boruc. However when Hartley played the ball back into the box, Hoops defender Paul Telfer had to make a goalline clearance from Bednar’s header.
Seconds later Boruc saved another attempt by Driver, diving low to pounce on the youngster’s turn and shot from 10 yards out.
Then, as Celtic fought back, Hearts keeper Craig Gordon had to dive low to his left to save a decent left-footed effort from Maciej Zurawski.
Minutes into the second period Hearts replaced Driver with Calum Elliot while the champions brought on Craig Beattie for Zurawski.
The Hoops substitute made an immediate impact and in the 55th minutes Celtic should have equalised. Gordon saved brilliantly from a Vennegoor of Hesselink header, following Beattie’s cross to the back post, but the ball fell kindly to Nakamura 14 yards out.
The Japan international’s strike was goalbound but Fyssas blocked with his body and the Gorgie goal, fortuitously, emerged unscathed.
But their good fortune remained only momentarily and in the 59th minute the visitors scored the equaliser.
Beattie’s angled drive from 16 yards, after he had rounded Christophe Berra, was spilled by Gordon and Vennegoor of Hesselink was perfectly placed to knock the ball over the line from two yards.
In the 67th minute Nakamura rattled a shot off the Jambos’ crossbar from the edge of the box and only a timely clearance by Andrius Velicka prevented Vennegoor of Hesselink scoring his second from the rebound.
Hearts swapped Bednar for Michal Pospisil in the 74th minute but still the visitors dominated.
And in the 81st minute the resurgent Hoops took the lead with a wonderful goal by Jarosik.
The Czech midfielder skipped past Tall 25 yards from goal and drove a glorious right-footed shot low past Gordon to cap an impressive second-half comeback.