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Lafferty all fired up to end Celtic glory run

 

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland star Kyle Lafferty is relishing kicking off the new Scottish Premiership season for Hearts against champions Celtic and has set his sights on ending the Glasgow club's long unbeaten streak.

While Hearts have had a tough start to the domestic campaign, exiting the League Cup and sacking manager Ian Cathro, Lafferty has provided the Edinburgh outfit with some light in the tunnel, netting four times in four games after his move from Norwich.

The Fermanagh man is keen to continue that scoring form today at Parkhead when he takes on Brendan Rodgers' treble winners, who earned their Invincible tag last term by not losing a single game against Scottish opposition.

Lafferty, given that he played previously for Rangers (below) and has never hidden his love for the Ibrox outfit, is sure to receive a hot reception from the Celtic faithful, on a high after seeing their team make it through to the Champions League play-off stage.

While Europe has dominated Celtic's thoughts for the past month, including beating Linfield home and away, Rodgers' men are eager to begin their defence of the title with a bang and many feel Hearts will be lambs to the slaughter. Not Lafferty, who will enter the fixture in a positive frame of mind.

"I will thrive on that kind of game. Playing against the champions on the flag day, you don't get much bigger games than that. Celtic will be up for it but we want to be the first team to beat them," said Lafferty. "Can we? I think we can. We will give them a tough game and it will be exciting."

Cathro's departure after seven months in the job has been a major talking point.

As they search for a successor, Hearts have put U20s coach Jon Daly in interim charge. He will be supported by assistant head coach Austin MacPhee, who is also on Michael O'Neill's backroom staff with Northern Ireland, and first-team coach Liam Fox.

Lafferty has impressed all three with his attitude in training and ability during matches and the 29-year-old, who played only 321 minutes of competitive football at Norwich last season, is enjoying the challenge of being an influential figure again.

The ex-Burnley ace will be well aware that by impressing for Hearts he can win his Northern Ireland starting spot back and with new Burton Albion striker Liam Boyce out injured for the rest of the World Cup qualifying campaign, there is a slot free in O'Neill's attack for next month's vital Group C matches against San Marino and the Czech Republic.

"Hearts are a massive club. I didn't realise how big until I walked around the stadium and training ground," said Lafferty. "It's a good place for me to get back on track. I don't think I have anything to prove as I know I will score. I think I will play the majority of games if I work hard."

Earlier this week, Hearts revealed they won't play any league matches at their Tynecastle home until November due to delays in the construction of a new main stand. Their home ground in September and October will be Murrayfield. That will be a test, but nothing will be tougher than meeting Celtic today.

Lafferty will be itching to give a good account of himself. He'll need the rest of the Hearts side to do the same, otherwise Celtic will coast to an opening day success.

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