Celtic roar towards title run-in
Dundee United 1
Next time Celtic play at home, it will be against Motherwell on the final day of this tumultuous SPL season.
Between now and then they have three road trips to negotiate, beginning with their outing against Caley Thistle at Inverness on Wednesday, followed by fixtures at Rugby Park and Tynecastle.
If they can extract maximum reward from those games, they will take the field against Motherwell -- whom they meet again in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on May 21 -- as champions-elect.
In front of their own crowd against Dundee United yesterday, Neil Lennon's players responded in emphatic style to Rangers' pyrotechnics at Fir Park 24 hours previously.
United split five goals with Rangers to emerge with an improbable victory at Ibrox on April 2. But, although this game produced the same scoring total, the flow was almost wholly in one direction and swept Celtic on towards the prize of a championship in Lennon's tyro season as a manager.
As at Fir Park, the favourites were only one goal ahead at the interval and looked as though they would need another to steer them through the jitters which are always at hand when a campaign remains undecided at this stage of the proceedings.
In this case, it was Beram Kayal's drive, executed with the precision of a marksman shooting through a keyhole, which saw Celtic into their comfort zone.
United's sole consolation was that none of their players could reproach themselves, which was far from the case at the opening goal -- Morgaro Gomis was in a position to push United into Celtic territory but chose to pass back to Garry Kenneth, who inexplicably gifted the ball straight to Anthony Stokes under no pressure whatsoever.
The Dubliner strode into the penalty area and, although United closed down his angles, Kenneth's error had allowed Hooper to bound into empty space, where he accepted the invitation to tap in from point-blank range.
Tangerines manager Peter Houston's response was to replace Danny Swanson and Prince Buaben with Jon Daly and Johnny Russell and United almost reduced the deficit immediately, which would have added intrigue to the contest.
However, having skipped past a couple of opponents effortlessly, Russell saw his shot ping back from the base of the upright and Celtic were soon able to engage cruise gear, aided by a scrappy clearance by Paul Dixon which was snapped up by Kris Commons for a low drive beyond Dusan Pernis.
The Tannadice side did find the net in stoppage-time when David Goodwillie fed Russell for a strike that resembled Celtic's opener.
Even then, though, United contrived to inflict self-harm by allowing Daryl Murphy all the time and space he required to amble across their penalty area and shoot past Pernis.
Lennon, of course, was very satisfied. "In these circumstances, the crowd can get a bit antsy and that can leak on to the pitch, but it's just the fans' desperation to be successful," said the Celtic manager.
"We understand that and the players worked hard to get ahead. There was a wee dry spell after half-time, so the second goal was very important and the bonus was that it was a wonder goal. Daryl responded brilliantly and nobody deserves a goal more than he does for all the work he's put in." (© Daily Telegraph, London)