Wednesday 13 December 2017

Griffiths is glad of 'luck' as Celtic close in on title

Dundee United 0 Celtic 3

Celtic hat-trick hero Leith Griffiths puts his best foot forward against Ryan McGowan
Celtic hat-trick hero Leith Griffiths puts his best foot forward against Ryan McGowan
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths scores their second goal
Dundee United's Robbie Muirhead in action with Celtic's Virgil van Dijk

Roddy Forsyth

Another Sunday, another Celtic game, one more penalty decision called wrongly by the referee - and further pleas for TV evidence to be called into action in such circumstances.

This time, though, the aggrieved team will not trouble the Scottish Football Association with correspondence about the failure of the match official to get his angles right at Tannadice after John Rankin toppled Gary Mackay-Steven outside the Dundee United box six minutes from the end of the seventh meeting of these sides this season.

Referee Willie Collum - like his counterpart, Steve McLean, who missed Josh Meekings' handball in the Scottish Cup semi-final between Celtic and Inverness - was probably unsighted when the incident occurred.


Certainly, Collum advised Rankin that the award had been made on advice, presumably from his far-side assistant, John McCrossan.

"I told him [Collum] I'd made the foul outside the box, but he said from what he'd been told it was inside," said Rankin.

"I don't know if it was him or the linesman who made the decision. I spoke to him afterwards and he was clear that he'd been led to believe it was outside the box. The referee has made a mistake, but there's nothing we can do about it - mistakes happen.

"That decision isn't what cost us the game. It was 2-0 at the time, so we're not going to complain. It just proves that every team gets decisions for them and against them.

"We saw it last weekend and again here. Until they bring video evidence into the game and give the refs a chance, then it will just be one of those things - but that's why people love football so much.

"One week it can go against you and the next it can go for you. It was hard to take at the time, but we had 11 players out there who all made mistakes."

Rankin's generous appraisal of the referee's error would surely have been different had the issue still been in the balance at such a late stage.

However, a diligent first-half performance by United counted for nothing when Celtic upped their game after the break to take the lead with the first of Leigh Griffiths' three goals of the afternoon.

Stuart Armstrong's forcing run and Stefan Johansen's touch on to Griffiths gave the striker the opportunity to place a low, left-foot drive firmly behind Radoslaw Cierzniak.

From that point, the contest began to run away from United and Griffiths got his second from a tap-in on the line when the home defence could not prevent Virgil van Dijk heading a corner kick against a post.

It was not, however, a formality for Griffiths to convert the penalty kick. "Kris Commons is our normal penalty-taker, but I asked him if I could hit it because I was on two goals," Griffiths said.

"He's a good lad and did the same with Anthony Stokes earlier in the season. He was happy to do that. I think most penalty-takers would pass the ball on if it meant a team-mate getting a hat-trick.

"I've just heard that the penalty was outside the box, but we were due a bit of luck after the semi-final. So I'll take it - and the match ball, too."

Like Rankin, Jackie McNamara was relatively phlegmatic about the impact of the penalty decision, although he did not discount the possible consequence if the chase for UEFA places should come down to goal difference.

"It still matters because it's a goal against us. We are now down to plus two rather than three, so these things are important," said the United manager.

"It was a mistake, but as we have seen, it happens, and it's the same as players. It was a mistake which led to the first goal.

"I am not going down the road of writing letters. I have enough to worry about without writing to people."

McNamara added that he would "take the positives" from the game and these included an impressive opening 45 minutes from a starting line-up which included four teenagers - one of whom, Robbie Muirhead, forced Craig Gordon into another of his trademark spectacular blocks to turn a 20-yard drive over.

Ronny Deila concurred that Celtic had lacked intensity and aggression in the first half, but he was pleased with his players' response in a largely one-sided second period.


A home victory over Dundee next Friday will take Celtic to a fourth successive Scottish title if Aberdeen drop points at Tannadice the following day, but that is not how the Hoops manager wants to see events unfold.

Deila said: "We will be very lucky if we do that as well. We have to beat Dundee on Friday and if Aberdeen win next Saturday, then it's going to be a huge game between us at Pittodrie the following week.

"That's a game we really want to win. There is a lot to look forward to. I want to win the title as quickly as possible, but whatever happens, the game in Aberdeen is going to be huge because we want to show that we are the best team by going up there and performing.

"First, though, we have Dundee on Friday and we need to play much better than we did in the first half today."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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