Rampant Celtic look bound for flag-to-flag glory

DURING his transformational tenure at Celtic, Fergus McCann was apparently not averse to the occasional time and motion study in order to improve the running of a club which was in disarray prior to his arrival 20 years ago.

Kris Commons finds a tiny amount of space in the box to make it 2-0 to Celtic. Picture: SNS

As he returned to unfurl the 2013-14 league championship flag prior to kick-off on Saturday, he might easily have observed that Celtic’s present dominance of Scottish football could see another business efficiency technique introduced.

For as the demolition of Dundee United demonstrated, no-one could seriously protest if the SPFL saved a bit of time by simultaneously presenting Celtic with this season’s flag as well.

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Anyone who held the fanciful notion that someone might present a credible title challenge to Celtic can disabuse themselves of it right now. United, contenders for the best of the rest and coming off back-to-back wins over two others in that category in Aberdeen and Motherwell, were simply overwhelmed in the east end of Glasgow.

Granted, they played a significant part in their own downfall with as lamentable a defensive display as it is possible to imagine. The concession of four goals from set pieces was especially galling for manager Jackie McNamara to accept on a day when he turned up at his former workplace quietly confident of causing an upset.

But even allowing for United’s brittleness at the back, Celtic simply carry too much ammunition in the attacking third of the pitch for the rest of Scotland’s top flight to cope with over a sustained period.

For new manager Ronny Deila, this was the ideal home debut in the job as his players delivered comfortably the most eye-catching performance of his short reign so far. Pressing with great energy for most of the afternoon, their passing was sharp and effective for significant periods.

The demanding Deila observed afterwards that his team had only satisfied his expectations of them for 60 of the 90 minutes. After the tame and incoherent displays against Legia Warsaw, however, this was the first telling evidence of the Norwegian successfully communicating his ideas to his new charges.

Celtic looked to set a frenetic pace from the start with the excellent Callum McGregor, who is thriving under Deila, unlucky not to add to his early season goals tally when he hit a post with a shot after just 55 seconds. United also came close in those opening exchanges, Gary Mackay-Steven seizing on some early hesitancy at the back by Celtic and dragging a shot narrowly wide of the target.

But the pattern for the game was set when Celtic took the lead in the fourth minute, on-loan Manchester City defender Jason Denayer marking his debut with a goal as he rifled the ball high into the net after both Callum Morris and Conor Townsend had failed to clear a Kris Commons corner.

With the flapping United keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak inspiring no confidence among his back four, the visitors went 2-0 down in the 28th minute when Commons nodded an Anthony Stokes corner home from close range.

Celtic’s third goal came gift-wrapped six minutes later, Paul Paton dallying in possession on the edge of his own penalty area and being dispossessed by Stefan Johansen who rifled a low shot beyond Cierzniak.

It was already a case of damage limitation for United but they crumbled again nine minutes after the break when Stokes’ free-kick from the left sailed straight into the net, despite Charlie Mulgrew claiming the final touch.

Jo Inge Berget, who had struck the crossbar in the first half, got his first Celtic goal to make it 5-0 in the 62nd minute, heading in from six yards after Efe Ambrose nodded a Stokes corner back into his path.

John Rankin garnered scant consolation for United when his shot was deflected beyond Craig Gordon’s grasp off Virgil van Dijk, but Celtic had the final word in stoppage time when Berget netted again from close range from Beram Kayal’s low cross.

“The goals we conceded were down to basic errors,” reflected United defender Morris.

“You want to come here and make it as tough as possible. After keeping two clean sheets in our first two games, we wanted to try and do it again. But it’s really difficult to take losing goals as soft as the ones we lost.

“We’ll look back on the goals we lost, assess it through the week, work on it and hopefully put it right. Everyone, not just the manager, was disappointed with the goals we lost.

“We are disappointed today, but if you look at our start to the season as a whole, we have come away from games against last season’s top three teams with six points and two clean sheets. That isn’t bad really. If we can get back on the winning streak next week, we’ll be happy with that.

“I thought Celtic were good. I’ve never played here before and we knew this would be the toughest of our three games so far. They played well, but we didn’t acquit ourselves as good as we good have.

“We need to be a lot tighter. We created a fair few chances ourselves, which maybe we should have taken, but it’s over and done with now. We just need to take it on board and move on.

“It’s possibly unrealistic to think anyone can get closer to Celtic in the league this season, but this was only one game. We still have to play them a number of other times. If we can get another win next Saturday, we will still be up there.”