JOHN Kennedy’s all-conquering kids showed the Celtic senior side how it’s done by securing a league and cup double with a 3-1 victory against Dunfermline.
Scorers: Dunfermline U20: Smith (80); Celtic U20: Lindsay (53), Atajic (79), Johnstone (84)
Referee: S Lambie
Neil Lennon’s top team will be back in Glasgow’s south side on 26 May seeking to add the Scottish Cup to their SPL crown and, if they display the cutting edge of their ruthless youngsters, then Hibs should be wary.
Kennedy’s side, who have competed in the NextGen Series – the youth football equivalent of the Champions League – this season and honed their skills in an invitational tournament in Dubai, were not at their best throughout, but displayed the requisite clinical touch and magic in the final third to win the Scottish Youth Cup.
Remarkably the win, secured by goals from Jamie Lindsay, Bahrudin Atajic and Denny Johnstone, completes a quadruple double for Celtic’s youth side, having swept all domestic competition aside in recent seasons.
Dunfermline offered more resistance than Queen of the South, defeated 8-0 in last season’s final, but were ultimately powerless to derail the juggernaut. For many neutrals, a victory for the Fifers would have capped a fairytale cup campaign for a young group of players who, amid administration, have seen their mentors made redundant, struggled to find a pitch to train on and had to car-pool due to the lack of cash for petrol.
The one memorable moment for the East End Park babes came in the form of an Allan Smith goal, which briefly reduced arrears late on.
While the night ended in glory for Celtic, it began under a cloud. Literally.
Given the events of Monday evening’s Glasgow Cup final at Firhill, in which a portion of Old Firm supporters displayed an inferior maturity to the under-17s on the pitch, Celtic’s raucous fanbase would have been well advised to keep their powder dry at the national stadium.
While the atmosphere created by their noisy following was welcome, it took little over 10 seconds for a smoke bomb to send a sulphuric fog across the turf. Harmless enough, but ill-thought out in this of all weeks.
Dunfermline began in determined fashion. Only a fine save from Leonardo Fasan denied Scott Mercer the opening goal within nine minutes.
Celtic’s first clear chance fell to Jackson Irvine, playing in his fourth consecutive final, with the Aussie’s close-range header forcing an athletic save from Ryan Goodfellow.
But more concerning for Dunfermline – certainly watching senior side manager Jim Jefferies – was the sight of Alex Whittle limping off injured. Dunfermline face Airdrie on Saturday in a match which Whittle, 20, would have started at left-back, requiring a win to guarantee survival.
After an underwhelming first-half display by Celtic, they emerged after the break with renewed impetus.
George was turning in an old-fashioned display of direct running and dancing feet on the wing, and he created the opener.
The 19-year-old turned Munro inside-out before delivering a pinpoint cross to the back post. Atajic nodded the ball across the face of goal for captain John Herron. With the goal gaping, he hit the post, but Jamie Lindsay saved his blushes by curling home clinically on the follow-up.
With so many of John Potter’s under-20 side drafted into senior action in recent months, there was always a fear of tiredness as the game wore on. And Atajic was allowed free reign to nod in a second goal.
Smith immediately hit back with a low shot past Fasan, but any hopes of a grandstand finish were quashed as Johnstone netted with a looping header with his first touch after coming on as a late substitute.
Dunfermline: Goodfellow; Millen, Young, Martin, Munro; Mercer (O’Kane 68), Kane (Gray 86), Byrne, Whittle (Drummond 25); Smith, Henderson. Subs not used: Robertson, Ritchie.
Celtic: Fasan; Fisher, Findlay, O’Connell, Miller; Herron (P Twardzik 76), McGregor, Irvine; Atajic (McMullan 90), Lindsay, George (Johnstone 82). Subs not used: Hart, McNally.