DUNDEE United fans will now be seeing hooped jerseys in their sleep. A third meeting between the teams in ten days turned into a nightmare for the visitors, who were comprehensively beaten by their all-too-familiar foes.
Scorers: Celtic - Denayer (17), Griffiths (57), Commons (79), van Dijk (90)
Bookings: Stokes (sent off, 87) McGowan (sent off, 89)
But it was not completely straightforward for Celtic, who had Anthony Stokes sent off with five minutes remaining for lashing out after claiming he had been elbowed by Paul Paton. Dundee United’s Ryan McGowan followed him down the tunnel soon afterwards for a bad foul on Liam Henderson as these teams again underlined how there is truth in the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. That is now six red cards in three meetings over ten days, with another league fixture to come on Saturday.
Once again, a powerful performance from Scott Brown was the heart of a victory supplemented by late goals from Kris Commons and Virgil van Dijk. Earlier goals from Jason Denayer and Leigh Griffiths set Celtic on their way.
A week earlier Brown had caused a storm by being pictured slumped in the street in Edinburgh following a drinking spree. This, he admitted in the club’s own magazine yesterday, had been a “mistake”. But he is wasting no time in making up for it. He followed-up his dominant display in Sunday’s League Cup final win with another strong showing here.
On this occasion he even found the time and inspiration to set-up Celtic’s clinching goal from Griffiths after 57 minutes. Brown’s long ball into the heart of the United defence saw
Griffiths break from his markers and send a delicate volley into the net.
He was immediately replaced by John Guidetti. If this conveyed an impression of the tie being done, then it was, it turned out, the correct one. A third goal, from Commons with 11 minutes left, confirmed the outcome and saw Celtic secure a semi-final meeting with Inverness Caledonian Thistle next month. Van
Dijk’s strike in injury-time topped off a fine victory.
Spurred on though they were by a determination to deliver a spirited response in what has proved a trying series of matches, United’s hopes were hampered both by a poor record at Celtic Park and limited resources. Their best-laid plans were almost ripped asunder by Griffiths in the opening minute. Released by an astute ball from Commons, the striker scampered through on goal only to be brought down by the onrushing Radoslaw Cierzniak five yards or so outside the box.
It was in an area of the park where John Rankin was meant to be patrolling and it looked set to be a long evening for the auxiliary left-back who, in the absence of Sean Dillon, was United skipper for the night.
He stuck to his task manfully but it seemed undeniably cruel to see him have to scamper after James Forrest, particularly with the Celtic winger being on a mission to impress after his return to the starting line-up. But that was a worry for later. A more pressing fear for the visitors was the prospect of being reduced to ten men with the game having barely kicked-off.
Those 1,000 or so United fans who had travelled back through to Glasgow must have experienced a familiar sinking feeling. Surely they were not going to be reduced to ten men again?
There might have been some clemency on the part of Calum Murray when he flashed a yellow card in the goalkeeper’s face. The referee had taken the probably correct view that Cierzniak’s actions had not necessarily prevented a goal being scored since there were enough United defenders galloping back in an attempt to retrieve the situation.
But the setback was only delayed so far as United were concerned. We were only 16 minutes in when Calum Butcher was penalised after tripping Commons, who was advancing towards the United goal. It seemed the foul was far enough away to avoid having ruinous consequences for United. But this was before taking United’s poor defending of late into the equation.
Stokes continued his good run of form to float an inviting ball into the box. Although Jaroslaw Fojut made a challenge it was too weak to prevent
Denayer looping a header over Cierzniak into the net.
Many wondered whether a third game in ten days might see the hostility considered by some to be steadily building over the course of this unusual mini-series ratcheted up another notch. And so it proved, eventually. But it took a while.
Brown’s challenge on Nadir Ciftci, his old sparring partner, a matter seconds after kick-off saw United awarded a foul. But the first half passed off fairly peacefully; only two bookings. As well as Cierzniak, Efe Ambrose was given a yellow for a foul.
Nir Bitton’s departure to be treated on the side for a head knock raised the intriguing prospect of United doing to Celtic what Celtic had done to them in the cup final. But the visitors could not make the most of this temporary one-man advantage. Indeed, they only rarely threatened Craig Gordon’s goal.
The one time they did cause some anxiety to rise in the home support was following a strong run down the right by McGowan. His low cross was cut out by Gordon but not cleanly. Had Ciftci been sharper, he might have profited.
It was proving a tough evening for United, whose record at Celtic Park had not provided much optimism for the hardy band of fans in the away corner. Not since a Duncan Ferguson winner on Boxing Day in 1992 had United won here.
But they took a deep breath and made a promising start to the second half, perhaps mindful of the evening 28 years ago to the night they came back from 1-0 down at half-time to win at the Nou Camp. However, these are different times. There was no coming back from the loss of a second goal to Griffiths just before the hour mark.
Later strikes from Commons, after a one-two with Guidetti, and Van Dijk following a Denayer cut-back amid mounting disciplinary chaos meant it was another long journey home for United.
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