RONNY Deila remains on course to meet his date with a destiny he is determined will mark his first season as Celtic manager. It is one down, two to go for the Norwegian coach in his pursuit of the elusive domestic treble after his team claimed the League Cup for the 15th time in the club’s history.
Scorers: Celtic - Commons (28), Forrest (79)
This was far from the most distinguished or thrilling final this competition has ever produced but Celtic merited their first piece of silverware under Deila’s guidance, goals by Kris Commons and James Forrest taking the trophy to Parkhead for the first time in six years.
For Dundee United, it was a second successive disappointment in major finals after their loss to St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup last May.
Jackie McNamara’s side were left to reflect on a wretched afternoon for their captain Sean Dillon who was off the field injured when Celtic opened the scoring in the first half and who was then sent off 11 minutes into the second half to scupper their hopes of a recovery. Celtic could even afford the luxury of a missed penalty by Forrest in the closing stages.
The four-match series between these teams now moves on to Wednesday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Celtic Park, the next hurdle between Deila and that treble only previously achieved for Celtic by Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill.
The recently relaid playing surface at Hampden certainly looked much better than the rutted pitch which had disfigured the semi-finals of this tournament, although there were still a few irregular bounces which suggested it was far from perfect.
It perhaps explained why neither side were able to fully find their passing rhythm, with countless moves from both breaking down in and around the penalty areas.
Celtic were the more threatening
in the early stages of the match and Dillon came to his team’s rescue in the third minute when he cleared off the line after Virgil van Dijk had risen to meet an Anthony Stokes corner from the left.
A mistake by Calum Morris, recalled to the centre of United’s defence after injury, presented Celtic with their next sight of goal. Leigh Griffiths pounced upon a badly underhit passback from Morris and after taking the ball around goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak, the striker might have done better than drag his shot wide from a tight angle.
United were struggling to create anything of note from open play but they did manage to call Craig Gordon into action for the first time at a set piece in the 17th minute. Ryan McGowan’s long throw-in from the right caught the Celtic defence flat-footed and Gordon raced off his line to make a brave save at the feet of John Rankin.
Celtic’s 28th-minute breakthrough came when United were temporarily down to ten men, Dillon having limped off to have stitches inserted in a shin wound he suffered in a challenge with Van Dijk.
United’s decision to wait for Dillon’s return and not make an immediate substitution backfired as they fell behind. Their recast defence were badly out of position when Celtic counter-attacked swiftly after a poor free kick at the other end by Paul Dixon had gone straight to Gordon.
Stokes broke free on the left and his low cross found Commons in the heart of the penalty area. His initial shot took a slight deflection off Jaroslaw Fojut and was well saved by Cierzniak, the big Pole diving to his left to get a hand to the ball. But Commons reacted quickest to the rebound, ramming home a shot from close range.
United appeared disorientated and the confusion over Dillon continued when, just as they were about to send Blair Spittal on in his place, the Irish defender re-emerged to return to the action four minutes after the goal had been scored.
It required a fine save by Cierzniak, diving low to his right, to prevent Commons doubling Celtic’s lead with a well struck right-foot shot after a clever turn on the edge of the penalty area. United rallied in the closing stages of the first half and had a penalty claim turned down by referee Bobby Madden when Ryan Dow went down after being nudged off the ball by Scott Brown. It came into the category of “soft, but seen them given”.
Dow was the liveliest and likeliest of United’s players in the attacking third of the pitch. Just before the interval, he got on the end of another long throw-in from McGowan but his header did not unduly trouble Gordon.
Mario Bilate, preferred to Henri Anier as the replacement for the suspended Nadir Ciftci in attack for United, toiled to impose himself on proceedings. He did burst into life six minutes into the second half, showing good strength to barrel his way past Van Dijk before getting in a shot which took a deflection off Jason Denayer before being well saved by Gordon low to the goalkeeper’s right.
But United’s hopes of building momentum in their search for an equaliser diminished hugely with Dillon’s dismissal in the 56th minute. The defender caught Emilio Izaguirre late with a high tackle which, if not malicious, was certainly dangerous and gave referee Madden little option but to reach for his red card. McNamara replaced Bilate with Anier in a bid to give his short-handed side fresh energy for what was now a seriously uphill task.
United were admirably gutsy in their efforts to retrieve the situation but were unable to seriously trouble the Celtic defence.
Deila made a double change with just over 20 minutes left, introducing Forrest and John Guidetti for Commons and Griffiths. Their arrival proved effective in stretching United in the closing stages and it was the substitutes who combined to give Celtic the insurance of their second goal in the 79th minute.
With United caught out by a rapid counter-attack, Guidetti received a pass from Stefan Johansen and laid the ball back into the path of Forrest who drove a firm right-foot shot beyond Cierzniak from around 20 yards.
The winning margin should have been more emphatic for Celtic but they squandered the opportunity to add gloss to the final scoreline with four minutes remaining. Forrest went down under Dixon’s challenge from behind in the box, prompting the referee to immediately point to the spot.
Forrest and Guidetti became involved in an unseemly argument over who would take the penalty. It was Forrest who prevailed but his confidence was misplaced as he struck a tame effort straight down the middle which Cierzniak saved with some ease.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Dillon, Morris, Fojut, Dixon; Paton (Erskine 72), Rankin; McGowan, Butcher, Dow; Bilate (Anier 59). Subs not used: Szromnik, Souttar, Telfer, Connolly, Spittal.
Celtic: Gordon, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Denayer, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton (Henderson 82); Johansen, Commons (Forrest 69), Stokes; Griffiths (Guidetti 69). Subs not used: Zaluska, Scepovic, Fisher, McGregor.
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