Celtic roll on thanks to Hooper double act
Dundee United 1
Perfection will meet its mirror image in the first Old Firm derby of the season next Sunday after Celtic emerged from a riveting contest at Tannadice yesterday with an eighth consecutive league victory to match Rangers pace for pace at the top of the SPL table.
In a match that was a first-class advertisement for Scottish football, Gary Hooper struck early and late against Dundee United to ensure 16 league wins in succession for Neil Lennon since he took charge of Celtic in the wake of Tony Mowbray's departure last March.
A match played at such a relentless tempo was bound to have its flashpoints and -- with the score at 1-1 in the second half, thanks to David Goodwillie's equaliser eight minutes before the interval -- tempers ignited when Dougie McDonald first awarded Celtic a penalty kick for a challenge by Dusan Pernis on Hooper and then rescinded it on the advice of his assistant.
The referee then signalled a drop ball inside the box but no sooner had United booted it into the stand than McDonald was summoned by his fourth official to warn Lennon about the vehemence of his protests.
That done, the referee then had his attention drawn to a cigarette lighter thrown at his main stand assistant from the seats above, following which a Celtic fan -- with wailing woman in tow -- was huckled from the premises.
All of which had been prompted, first by a tussle between Garry Kenneth and Hooper, which the Celtic players thought worthy of a penalty in itself, and then by Pernis' intervention, which saw the Parkhead forward toppled.
McDonald immediately pointed to the spot but was hemmed in by a wall of tangerine jerseys and persuaded by Kenneth to consult with his assistant, who advised that the goalkeeper had got to the ball before his momentum had taken Hooper down.
The dispute stayed on the boil long after the final whistle sounded.
"It was a penalty kick and the referee gave a penalty kick," said Lennon.
"The assistant referee took up position for the penalty, the referee then speaks to him and says it isn't a penalty. We've had a few of these things go against us in the last few months. I don't understand it and I said so to the referee."
Lennon's counterpart, Peter Houston, was even more acidic in his response when asked what he thought was going through McDonald's head during the incident.
"I don't know what goes through Dougie McDonald's head, period," replied the Tannadice manager. "I'm not saying it's the reason we lost the game, but I'm looking for a more consistent performance from a referee who is meant to be one of the top officials. At the end of the game (Georgios) Samaras fouled Barry Douglas.
"The referee awards a foul, Barry Douglas gets up, Samaras pushes him and Barry Douglas gets booked. Where's the reasoning in that? Why do we get a player booked? That's the sort of thing I'm talking about."
Mind you, most of the early stages of the match suggested that Houston's mind would be fully occupied wondering how to keep the score within bounds. For the first 20 minutes United could rarely get the ball and even less frequently keep it.
Lennon had made three changes to the Celtic side that beat Hamilton before the international break, recalling Mark Wilson, Emilio Izaguirre and Anthony Stokes to replace Scott Brown, Cha Du-Ri and Efrain Juarez in a 4-4-2 formation that switched menacingly to 4-2-4 in attack, which was for most of the opening quarter of the contest.
The recall of Wilson was especially rewarding for Celtic and they opened the scoring when the full-back shuttled forward from Stokes' prompt to cut back for Hooper to ram home inside the six-yard box. Although United revived towards the break and pressed with a flurry of corners, Celtic looked good value for their lead at half-time until Joe Ledley was ambushed by Prince Buaben in midfield.
Goodwillie gathered the ball, took a couple of strides and struck a shot which deflected off Glenn Loovens and beyond Fraser Forster. The second half saw both sides pour their energy into attempts to force the issue, but it was Celtic's determination and physical strength which prevailed.
They came within an inch of restoring their lead with a Ledley drive that crashed back from the post and the persistence was rewarded in the final seconds. Paddy McCourt, who had replaced Shaun Maloney -- captain for the day -- crossed the ball for Stokes, whose shot was blocked. The rebound fell to Wilson, whose cross was headed on by Samaras to the lurking Hooper and he stabbed his effort past Pernis to trigger scenes of wild celebration among the Celtic management. (© Daily Telegraph, London)