IT WAS, Neil Lennon said, a bad time for his old Celtic mucker Jackie McNamara to be leading his Dundee United side into action at his former Parkhead haunt.
Scorers: Celtic: Ambrose (11), Commons (21, 55), Ledley (37),Stokes (71, 82); Dundee United: Armstrong (9), Russell (90)
“It was an angry team out there today,” Lennon said of the devastating display with which his Celtic side demolished their Tayside opponents. “We have a good team we’ve built from scratch and they played like a Champions League team.”
Essentially, Celtic played like a team smarting from the Champions League experience of losing 3-0 to Juventus, despite performing creditably. Lennon carped that the reaction to, what was “no disgrace”, had been “typically over the top”. In singling out Efe Ambrose for “special praise” and stressing how he and Kris Commons had been “exceptional”, “despite all the talk beforehand”, the Celtic manager’s gripe was clearly with the reporting of Commons criticism of the Nigerian’s error-scarred night on the day of his return from the Africa Cup of Nations.
Ambrose’s redemptive afternoon was assured when he rose to head in a Commons corner after only 11 minutes. His triple summersault goal celebration was roared to the Green Brigadeless rafters – they were boycotting again because of “heavy-handed” police survelliance – in a fashion that spoke of warmth and forgiveness. And relief at an equaliser that came two minutes after Stuart Armstrong had opened the scoring with a clinical finish following a lacerating run from Gary Mackay-Steven.
The encounter, full of adventure and enterprise from both teams, then turned on two moments midway through the first period. Anthony Stokes, who linked potently with his attacking partners, picked out Emilio Izaguirre to whip a ball over from the left that Commons drove towards Radoslaw Cierzniak to earn himself a goal when the ball bounced up of the keeper’s toe and dropped in of the bar.
Within four minutes, United were given a gift of an opportunity to snaffle an equaliser when referee Bobby Madden adjudged Adam Matthews had tugged Johnny Russell before sliding in to nick the ball from the striker. The resultant spot-kick from Jon Daly was blocked by Fraser Forster after being struck at saveable height to his right, and with that outcome justice seemed to be served. No infringement was obvious at the time, and television pictures didn’t reveal any shirt-pulling.
The jig was up for United seven minutes from the interval when Stokes slipped the ball to Joe Ledley for the Welshman to hit a shot that flew into the top corner after flicking off Sean Dillon, and it threatened to get ever-so-messy when Douglas bumped into Stokes ten minutes after the restart. A definite penalty, there then followed an amusing episode wherein Stokes took the ball, with the seeming approval of Commons, only for Kelvin Wilson to stride forward and tell Commons to step forward and take the award. The communication had come from Lennon, the Celtic manager admitted. “I wanted Kris to take it because he has taken the last two and scored the last two. I was going, ‘oh God, if he misses I am going to get pelters’ but he didn’t. Stokesy wanted to take it because he just wants to score goals.”
As he proved, waltzing through the middle 19 minutes from time and unleashing a humdinger of a drive that beat Cierzniak all ends up, before pouncing on a rebound from close range for a second ten minutes after the keeper had palmed away a header from substitute James Forrest following a corner. In the last minute, Russell ran through to net with a goal that didn’t really put much of a better complexion on a day when United shipped in more goals against Celtic than they have since a 7-2 loss in December 1969.
The reverse meant McNamara tasting defeat for the first time after starting his tenure with two wins, and the meekness with which his team were ultimately overwhelmed left him hacked off. “I thought there was a bit of acceptance from some of our lads which I wasn’t happy about,” he said.
“They also scored from two corners, which was disappointing and we missed a penalty and they scored a penalty was another difference. But Stokes scoring after dropping off, then turning and having a free shot, that angered me the most.
“Other than that we have to take more responsibility, certainly at corners. I said to them after the game there has to be better communication. The back four played like individuals at times. We didn’t have Gavin Gunning and he is very vocal, and we missed that. I know there are times as players when you just want the game to finish but they need to concentrate on their jobs and give nothing away. I learned more today than I did after the first two wins. To be honest I knew when I came here there were certain things we needed to work on and change.”
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre, Commons, Wanyama, Ledley, Mulgrew, Stokes, Hooper. Subs: Zaluska, Rogic, Miku, Rogne, Lassad, Kayal, Forrest
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Dillon, McLean, Douglas, Armstrong, Flood, Rankin, Mackay-Steven, Russell, Daly. Subs: Banks, Ryan, Millar, Gardyne, Dow, Petrie, Souttar.