Celtic eased to victory at Tannadice in a season-ending stroll that barely counted as a work-out ahead of this weekend’s Scottish Cup final clash with Hibernian.
Scorers: Celtic - Commons (11), Samaras (17, 27), Stokes (85)
Bookings: Dundee United - Flood
It means United have lost four of their five top-six matches, while Celtic’s title-winning margin has been increased to a final total of 16 points.
There was no repeat of the engrossing seven-goal rollercoaster of a few weeks ago in these teams’ Scottish Cup semi-final meeting at Hampden, when United recovered from losing an early goal to lead 2-1, before losing after extra-time. Neil Lennon fielded a strong Celtic team, although he ceded to sentiment in the case of Pat McCourt, who started his first game since a victory over Inverness in February. Lennon has confirmed that the Northern Irishman will leave in the summer after only 20 starts in four years.
Given that it seems unlikely he will be involved this weekend, Celtic ensured that McCourt, who was replaced after 67 minutes by Tomas Rogic, ended his career on a high. Three goals up within half an hour, it might have been preferable for both teams had referee John Beaton simply called an end to the proceedings at half-time.
United would have been willing to make sure there was no further embarrassment, while Lennon could then be assured that his side would suffer no injury setbacks on the greasy surface ahead of their double-winning attempt. Indeed, there was a scare at the start of the second half when skipper Scott Brown crumpled to the turf after a challenge from Mark Millar. He returned to the fray shortly afterwards and Lennon’s fears were eased, although he still has doubts over Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest, who were both absent yesterday as they nursed knocks. Adam Matthews is now almost certain to miss out this weekend after again failing to make the squad yesterday.
Typically, Brown completed the 90 minutes. Goalscorers Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons departed the scene early, with an eye to this weekend.
In fairness to United, their side looked a touch more experimental than the one Lennon fielded. Jackie McNamara’s troubles are most apparent in defence, where they again fielded the 16 year-old John Souttar. He was alongside the departing skipper Jon Daly, who was deprived of the opportunity to end his United career in his preferred centre forward position. Unsurprisingly, Daly also had his every touch jeered by the Celtic supporters, in recognition of his soon-to-begin new life as a Rangers player.
Brian McLean also started the match as one of three centre halves for United, although they quickly switched to a back four as it became apparent that Celtic were threatening to run amok. Barry Douglas was moved from midfield to his usual position at left back. By then the game had all but slipped from United’s grasp. The visitors opened the scoring after 12 minutes and even then they might already have been ahead, following a cross that had been deflected towards goal by Souttar. However, Radoslaw Cierzniak grabbed the ball at point-blank range.
Celtic did open the scoring after Daly was penalised for a foul on Commons, who promptly dusted himself down and placed the ball on a spot about 25 yards from goal. His low effort seemed to go either just past or below the wall that United had organised to try and shield the goal. Cierzniak was powerless to prevent the ball crossing the line. He did, though, succeed in stopping Celtic from going further ahead just two minutes later, brilliantly tipping another Commons free-kick onto the post, after Douglas’ foul on McCourt.
The second goal was only delayed by a few minutes. Samaras took the ball for a run and when the striker elected to shoot, from the edge of the box, the ball took another nick off Souttar and was nestling in the corner of the net before Cierznak had the chance to move. It wasn’t the start the United fans, who had turned up to applaud their side’s efforts for the season, had wanted, or indeed expected. And while there was some misfortune about certainly the second goal, there could be no denying that Celtic looked the more assertive, fluid team in the opening stages. Indeed, this was the story of the entire game.
Any hope that United might stage a comeback was extinguished as early as the 27th minute, when Samaras scored his second of the afternoon after rising to meet a Commons corner. The connection with his head was true and took the ball past Cierzniak to make it 3-0 to Celtic. Somehow the scoreline stayed this way until the last few minutes, when Anthony Stokes added a fourth, with a right-footed shot from just inside the box. Celtic had pressed and pressed for another goal. A Joe Ledley header that looked to be going in from the moment it left his head was clawed away by Cierzniak. Brown, meanwhile, also saw his effort from the edge of the box saved by the in-form goalkeeper, who threw himself to the left to keep the ball out.
United sent on Johnny Russell for Rory Boulding midway through the second half and he made an almost immediate impression when chesting the ball down for Daly, whose volley was well saved by Fraser Forster. There was at least some cheer for the United supporters. At half-time the club confirmed that they had completed the signing of Raith Rovers striker Brian Graham, who was paraded in front of the crowd after scoring 27 times for the First Division club this season.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Souttar, McLean, Daly, Rankin (Gauld 62), Millar, Flood, Douglas, Armstrong, Mackay-Steven (Dow 87), Boulding (Russell 66). Subs Not Used: Anderson, Ryan, Gardyne, Tornstrand. .
Celtic: Forster, Lustig, Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre, McCourt (Rogic 68), Brown, Ledley, Commons (Stokes 68), Samaras (Atajic 83), Hooper. Subs Not Used: Zaluska, Gershon, Fisher, McGeouch.