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Hearts 0 Celtic 2: Lennon hails his record players

ThE hashtag #createhistory has been adopted by the Foundation of Hearts and IT tycoon Ann Budge as they endeavour to deliver Hearts from administration, but the history served up at Tynecastle yesterday can't have been exactly what they had in mind.

Leigh Griffiths celebrates his first Celtic goal in front of the Hearts supportersPhotograph: SNS
Leigh Griffiths celebrates his first Celtic goal in front of the Hearts supportersPhotograph: SNS

Not only did Fraser Forster duly pass the all-time Scottish top-flight mark of 1155 minutes without conceding a goal previously held by Aberdeen's Bobby Clark in 1971, Leigh Griffiths used the occasion to register his first goal for Celtic, much to the chagrin of those Hearts fans who taunted him in connection with his two loan spells at Hibs.

This ground was in a fearful tumult as the 23-year-old outmuscled Brad McKay to latch on to Anthony Stokes' through pass, twisted away from the backtracking Danny Wilson, then fired a devilish left-foot drive into the bottom corner. He then marked the moment by running towards the Hearts fans who taunted him about his appearance with his thumbs up before traversing the field again and sharing an embrace with his manager Neil Lennon.

Afterwards the Northern Irishman savoured his new signing's first goal for the club, and paid tribute to his record breakers, who have now gone 26 matches unbeaten, a run which may face its "toughest test yet" at Pittodrie on Tuesday night.

"I sit here a very proud manager," said Lennon. "We've just broken a long-standing record and it's a long-standing record for a reason. It's a great feather in the cap for the players and the club and obviously we maintain our unbeaten record in the league.

"That will do Leigh the world of good," he added of the man who appears to have replaced him as public enemy No 1 at this ground. "It's a big step up in his career and you saw what it meant to him. We are hoping there is plenty more to come from him. He hits the ball with great control and he hits it so hard that it is difficult for keepers to get down that quickly.

"You could see the relief more than anything else and there was the added incentive of him being a Hibs fan and scoring against Hearts. But the main focus is he has broken his duck for Celtic."

Exactly 66 points separated these two at the final whistle, but the seeming inevitability of either team's fate - Celtic as Champions and Hearts being relegated - did nothing to calm the ferocity of the occasion. Gary Locke restored Callum Paterson and Kevin McHattie after suspension, while Lennon introduced Charlie Mulgrew for the injured Emilio Izaguirre, as tensions were raised from the start. Jamie Hamill and Scott Brown spent much of the day in each other's faces while the Hearts man was lucky to escape censure for a fresh air kick in the direction of Virgil van Dijk.

Forster had just 31 goalless minutes to endure before taking his place in the record books, and while neither team conjured a shot on target during the first period, there were a few dodgy moments. The Englishman fumbled one cross and Mulgrew almost gifted Ryan Stevenson a goal as the hosts forced a couple of corners just seconds before applause from the away support marked the passing of the record. The closest Celtic came was via a right-foot Commons effort and a Van Dijk header, both of which ruffled the roof of the net.

The second half promised better, with first Stevenson then Kris Commons forcing both keepers into action early. Stokes then forced a fine save from Jamie MacDonald with a far post header from a Commons free-kick, before the man known as Sparky lit the fuse, enraging the home supporters still further by avoiding a booking for his provocative celebrations.

Say what you like about the quality Hearts have displayed this season, but you cannot fault their endeavour. They stuck at it, and in the dying minutes they nearly grabbed an equaliser -courtesy of a massive Callum Paterson throw which was missed by both Forster and Dylan McGowan.

Substitute Derk Boerrigter almost made the game safe from an Adam Matthews' cross before a couple of his fellow replacements combined to do so. Referee Kevin Clancy ignored a couple of dubious challenges, one from Nir Biton on Dale Carrick and one from Balde himself on Hamill, before Balde unselfishly squared the ball for Teemu Pukki to produce a composed finish.

"There were definitely two fouls and how the referee never saw that I don't know," said Locke. "The last time Celtic came here there was no contest, but I've said all along that the players are improving all the time and we have more than matched the best team in the country."

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