FROM DISCORD to harmony. Three days after his meltdown in Molde, Kris Commons helped ensure Celtic delivered the required response to their latest European flop as they eased themselves four points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
One-sided victories such as this one against a lamentable Dundee United side, who are in danger of being cut adrift at the foot of the table, cannot compensate for the failings Celtic have shown in Europe under Ronny Deila’s leadership.
But it was the kind of result which simply confirms their domestic hegemony remains under no imminent threat.
After his angry reaction to being substituted during the 3-1 Europa League loss in Molde on Thursday, all was sweetness and light for Commons as he helped himself to a double against United and this time left the pitch to hugs and high fives with the coaching staff.
For United manager Mixu Paatelainen, the task of allaying United’s relegation fears looks an unenviable one on this evidence. It was a pitiful display by the visitors who appear devoid of confidence and self-belief.
United were intent on damage limitation right from the start, Paatelainen deploying a 4-5-1 formation he hoped might frustrate Celtic and perhaps exploit the gloomy mood which had enveloped the Scottish champions in the wake of the midweek debacle in Norway.
But as Deila’s men dominated possession and territory with ease, it was quickly clear that the visitors’ strategy was destined to fail.
Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong, whose departure from Tannadice in January was the catalyst for the dramatic decline in United’s fortunes ever since, were prominent in Celtic’s patient probing for the breakthrough.
Armstrong came close to claiming it in the sixth minute, collecting a pass from Mackay-Steven and seeing his shot deflected narrowly wide.
With United barely able to get out of their own half, Armstrong threatened again when he cut in from the left and unleashed a curling right-foot shot which Lars Zwick, diving to his left, did well to divert behind.
There was very little in the way of defending for Jozo Simunovic to do at the other end as the Croatian returned from a month-long injury lay-off to make his home debut for Celtic in the heart of their back four.
Simunovic decided to seek involvement for himself, ambling forward unchallenged to come close with a powerful shot from 25 yards.
It was a matter of when, not if, Celtic would open the scoring and they duly did so in the 23rd minute. It was a well crafted and superbly finished goal, Leigh Griffiths latching on to Scott Brown’s reverse pass and drilling home a close-range shot from a tight angle, but United keeper Zwick was guilty of hesitation when he should have advanced to cut out the through ball.
United could make little impression as an attacking force, although a trademark Efe Ambrose mistake did gift them their first sight of goal. Fortunately for the Nigerian defender, John Rankin was unable to take advantage as he screwed his shot wildly off target.
Celtic soon regained territorial control and removed any prospect of a United recovery by scoring twice more before the interval. They made it 2-0 in the 40th minute, Dedryck Boyata rising at the near post to meet an Armstrong corner from the left with a firm header which beat Zwick despite the young German getting his hands to the ball.
Celtic were in cruise mode and added their third from the penalty spot in first-half stoppage time. United protested the award, but impressive young left-back Kieran Tierney was clearly fouled by Scott Fraser.
Commons, who had been some way short of his best during the opening 45 minutes, stepped forward and converted from 12 yards with considerable authority, his powerful left-foot effort sending Zwick the wrong way.
Celtic were in no mood to relent after the break and Mackay-Steven almost scored just 25 seconds into the second half, his low shot beating Zwick but rebounding to safety off the keeper’s left-hand post.
This was always likely to be an afternoon when Commons would take the limelight, however, and he ensured that was the case when he made it 4-0 in the 53rd minute.
Turning back on to his left foot on the right side of the United penalty area, Commons powered a rising shot beyond the helpless Zwick into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Commons even had time to prevent United pulling a goal back from one of their rare forays forward, clearing off the line to deny substitute Adam Taggart a consolation strike.
Shortly afterwards, Deila decided Commons had done his work for the day and replaced him with Tom Rogic. But there was no rancour at being replaced on this occasion from Commons, who received a standing ovation from the home fans and also a warm embrace from his manager as he made his way to the dug-out.
Celtic’s facile win was wrapped up a minute from the end, captain Brown, pictured left, charging down the left and into the six-yard area where his driven ball was turned into his own net by Aaron Kuhl.
SCORERS: Celtic – Griffiths (23), Boyata (40), Commons (45 pen, 53), Kuhl (89 og)
Referee: C Thomson