Celtic keep title race alive
Celtic kept alive their title challenge on Wednesday when they reduced the gap at the top of the Scottish Premier League to eight points with a 2-0 win over Hearts at Parkhead as leaders Rangers were held to a 1-1 draw by Motherwell.
The league leaders left it late to secure a point at Fir Park when Kris Boyd pounced to slam home Sasa Papac's cross after a Tom Hately free-kick had given Motherwell a first-half lead.
At Parkhead, Celtic could not find a way past a stubborn Hearts defence in the first-half with Robbie Keane, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Scott Brown all denied by goalkeeper Marian Kello.
However, it took just four minutes of the second half for the Hoops to find an opener through Glenn Loovens, who fired in from Diomansy Kamara's corner. Fortune had been restored to the starting line-up, and he repaid his manager's faith when he slotted home the second less than 60 seconds later.
Keane was making his home debut for the Hoops and had a chance to open the lead after just seven minutes after beating the off-side trap. The Irish international skipper latched on to a long ball and raced into the box but blasted his effort into the side netting.
Hearts, with lone striker Christian Nade, were struggling to make changes but Josh Thomson had to be brave to block a vicious volley from the edge of the box by Ryan Stevenson.
Kello twice denied Celtic as they missed a golden chance to take the lead in the 26th minute. Kamara released Brown in the box but his attempted chip was blocked by Kello, and when the rebound eventually fell for Fortune, his fierce drive was deflected over by the Lithuanian keeper. McGeady was the provider as he picked out Keane's run in the box but the on-loan Spurs striker sent a soft shot straight to Kello and the danger was cleared.
Michael Stewart's wayward shot was nearly directed past Artur Boruc by Paul Mulrooney in a rare attacking move by Hearts. Kamara fired over from range before McGeady was booked for booting the ball away when the whistle went for half-time as frustrations began to show.
Celtic came out fired up for the second-half, and despite all the impressive talent in their forward line-up, it was a defender who shot them into a 49th minute lead. Loovens allowed Kamara's corner to bounce between his legs before he swivelled and lashed home a left-foot drive from inside the six-yard box.
Less than 60 seconds later, Fortune doubled Celtic's advantage. McGeady burst through the Hearts defence at pace before playing a perfectly weighted pass for Fortune who tucked it away low past Kello. Keane then picked out McGeady at the edge of the box but he was off target with his effort before he sent a chip inches wide from a difficult angle as the Hoops ran Hearts ragged.
A Hearts attack broke down allowing Kamara to break at pace and slip Keane into the box but he couldn't keep his shot away from the advancing Kello. Keane then lifted a shot over the bar after good work in the box before Kamara fired wide as Celtic couldn't add to their lead.
Elsewhere, Hibernian scored a last minute goal to draw 2-2 with Aberdeen, Hamilton defeated Dundee United 2-0, Kilmarnock won 1-0 away to Falkirk and St Johnstone and St Mirren ended 1-1.
Celtic have important games against Aberdeen away and Dundee United at home before their Old Firm clash at the end of the month and manager Tony Mowbray backed his side to show they can still pose a challenge in the league. "I said it was important that we start winning week in week out and when the big games come round we have to win them," said Mowbray, who has radically overhauled the squad he inherited from predecessor Gordon Strachan.
"I have always said points will be dropped along the way and we have got to keep going. I think the team will only get better. They have only just been thrown together and have trained together for about four or five days.
"You hope the quality we've got in the squad at the moment will ensure we improve and get better as we go along. We will only improve from this point and I'm sure we will improve every week."