IT MIGHT have been a new Celtic manager’s first caning of an opponent on his home debut in Glasgow’s east end, but there could have been an old-time’s sake element in the ransacking of Dundee United by Ronny Deila’s side.
SCORERS: Celtic - Denayer 4, Commons 27, Johansen 34, Stokes 54, Berget 62, 90; Dundee United - Rankin 71
Fergus McCann was back, and so was the sort of one-sided home encounter that his so-called Three Amigos of Paolo di Canio, Jorge Cadette and Pierre van Hooijdonk served up when the former owner’s resuscitation of a near-expired Celtic first began to see the team coursing with new life.
It was one of those six-going-on-16 goalfests – “embarrassing” admitted Tannadice manager Jackie McNamara. The sort of swashbuckling success that many predicted only a fortnight ago, when his team didn’t have a pulse in going down to Legia Warsaw at Murrayfield, that Deila would struggle ever to deliver.
His team were no doubt helped into the right mood by the home support putting to rights the wrong of the mixed reception that McCann received when in 1998, he stepped out to unfurl Celtic’s first league for a decade. The 20th anniversary of his takeover that was marked earlier this year brought a reappraisal of his single-minded, spat-strewn rebuilding of a club and its stadium, and it showed in the raucous reception given to a man who is a true one-off.
Somehow, despite perhaps exhibiting a little frailty not uncommon among septuagenarians, McCann cut a more emboldened, a more at-home presence, than on any occasion during his five-year stewardship he was passed a mic to address a Celtic Park crowd. The words he offered up today spoke of a humility, a pride and a pointed nod to the footballing vagaries that caused a section of the support to jeer him six years ago.
“What an honour it is to be here; just to be here at Celtic Park with you,” he proclaimed. “Things can go up, and things can go down. Celtic, I hope, will go on forever. Three years as champions is something to celebrate; it’s not just one. I’m delighted chairman Ian Bankier is here and want you all to help raise the flag that tells us we are champions.”
Celtic, for the first time in Deila’s five-game tenure, played like champions. In the manner they went after what were the Premiership leaders, the approach that the Norwegian seeks could be clearly witnessed. Aside from United squandering several one-on-ones with Craig Gordon early on, it was an afternoon when the new manager’s imprint was a hallmark rather than a stain.
As double scorer Jo Inge Berget touched on, never was this truer than what brought Celtic a third goal through his countryman Stefan Johansen. United piddled about the back with the ball clumsily passed from keeper to Callum Morris, to Ryan Dow. The danger looked minimal until Johansen steamed in, robbed the United midfielder and slotted past Radoslaw Cierzniak.
“That’s how we want to play, fast, entertaining football, and defensively as well, in getting the ball back,” said Cardiff City loanee Berget. “Stefan’s goal is an example of what the manager wants to do. Win the ball up there and straight to work. We showed a lot of good things today and I think he’s pleased.”
So were the crowd. Spontaneous applause greeted passages of play wherein the combined efforts of the impressive Anthony Stokes and the unusually industrious Kris Commons. McNamara bemoaned the loss of four goals from set-pieces and that failure with the “fundamentals” began after only four minutes when teenage Belgian Jason Denayer marked his debut after his temporary move from Manchester City by sweeping in at the back post after the visitors were calamitous defending a Commons corner. In 28 minutes, they handled an inswinger from Stokes worse to allow Commons to nod in from two yards.
Berget had battered the bar before he joined the scorers with a powerful header from close range just after an hour, his first effort minutes on from Charlie Mulgrew claiming he had applied a feather touch to a Stokes free-kick from the left channel. After Rankin had a shot evade Gordon – who pulled off a brilliant finger-tip save just after the break – with the help of a Virgil van Dijk deflection, Berget brought up his second and his team’s sixth by slotting in a low effort after the United keeper had spilled a shot in his direction.
Berget, thrown in for the away leg against Legia Warsaw having joined three days earlier, was in the last month’s Champions League qualifier as a liability. Now he could figure in the play-off away to Maribor in midweek as a potential attacking asset.
“It’s a long time since I scored twice. it is the second game I start now, I’m getting into it. I know all the boys now and I’m settling in. I have already played more games here than I did [in a six-month loan spell] with Cardiff, and scored two goals today, so that is great.”