Celtic finally kicked off their first competitive match of the season at Celtic Park and they secured all three points with a 5-1 win over Dundee United, to keep up their 100% winning start to the SPL campaign. Irishman Anthony Stokes opened the scoring for Celtic on four minutes, before Johnny Russell equalised for Peter Houston’s side on the half hour mark. But almost immediately Gary Hooper scored to put Celtic in the lead again. And the points were wrapped up in the second half through goals from Ki Sung Yueng, Joe Ledley and James Forrest.
Neil Lennon made three changes to the side which beat Aberdeen last weekend. Scott Brown returned to his midfield role after missing the first two games of the season through suspension. Mark Wilson came in after a hip injury and Charlie Mulgrew came in for Honduran Emilio Izaguirre who is out for up to six months.
Celtic looked up for the game from kick off and Kris Commons tested the United keeper after just three minutes, but Pernis could only block the effort and Stokes won a corner soon after. From the resulting corner Celtic opened the scoring. Daniel Majstorovic headed the ball down for Stokes to strike the ball under Pernis and into the back of the net.
As the game settled down, United got more into the game and were rewarded with an equaliser on the half hour mark. Defender Gary Kenneth mis-hit his shot, but the ball fell kindly to team-mate Johnny Russell who scored to make it 1-1.
However almost immediately Celtic were back in the lead. An Anthony Stokes header hit the bar and Gary Hooper reacted quickest to head home from less than a yard out.
Into the Second Half and Celtic started where they had left off, as they pressed forward looking for a third. On 53 minutes Commons saw his low drive come off the far post. And it wasn’t long before Celtic got their third of the game.
As United pushed forward for an equaliser, Celtic countered through Kris Commons down the left. Ki latched onto a pass from the former Derby winger and the South Korean fired his shot into the top corner of Pernis’ goal just before the hour mark.
Despite being two behind, United pressed forward looking to pull a goal back, and under-pressure Celtic keeper Lukasz Zaluska made two fine saves within the space of five minutes to keep Celtic two goals ahead.
With Celtic looking likely candidates to pick up all three points, they were dealt another massive blow ahead of their Europa League clash against FC Sion on Thursday as Gary Hooper was stretchered off injured. As Hooper drove through the middle of the park and hit his shot just wide of the post, the striker was taken out late by United defender Paul Dixon, who was lucky to escape punishment for his tackle.
Sooner after Celtic scored number four as substitute Shaun Maloney played in Joe Ledley at the near post and the Welshman struck the ball into the bottom corner of Pernis’ goal which effectively ended the game on 71 minutes.
And Celtic finished the scoring in injury time as substitute James Forrest scored Celtic’s fifth of the game. The result takes Celtic second, a point behind league leaders Motherwell but the Parkhead side have a game in hand.
Their focus will now turn towards the midweek clash against Swiss side FC Sion without influential full back Emilio Izaguirre – who was ruled out last week and potentially striker Gary Hooper also.
Manager Neil Lennon told BBC Scotland after the match: “I couldn’t ask any more of the players. Second half they really turned on the gas and some of the football was fantastic. It will be different on Thursday. They are a battle-hardened European side. If we play as open as that, we could get punished. However, going forward, we can score goals against any team.”
On the injury to Gary Hooper, Lennon added: “He seems to have rolled his ankle, which is a trend for us. We’ll X-ray him tomorrow, with a scan on Monday, and with a bit of luck he could be fit for Thursday.”
United manager was more upbeat on his side’s performance despite the scoreline. He said: “Zaluska has won man of the match and that tells you something. We’ve come here and had a go but there’s a lot to work on defensively. But all credit to Celtic for taking their goals.”
“If you look at the goals we gave away: two (have come) from corners. The first goal, our goalkeeper should do better and they eventually get a corner because he’s not concentrating enough,” he told BBC Scotland.
“So, that was a cheap goal to give away. We got back into it with a decent goal and then we go 2-1 down from another corner which is normally a strength of ours. For a spell in the second half I thought it was going to go to 2-2 because of the number of crosses we were putting into the box. But they counter-attacked us again to make it 3-1. So, it’s disappointing and really poor defensively for us. We looked a threat at times in an attacking sense, but I’m disappointed to lose to a scoreline that flattered them.”
CELTIC XI: Zaluska; M. Wilson, Majstorovic, K. Wilson, Mulgrew; Brown, Ki, Ledley, Commons (Forrest 63); Stokes (McCourt 77), Hooper (Maloney 66)
Subs not used: Cervi, Matthews, Wanyama, Samaras
DUNDEE UNITED XI: Pernis; Dillon, Kenneth, Watson, Dixon; Flood (Gunning 77), Allan (Armstrong 68), Robertson, Rankin; Daly, Russell
Subs not used: Banks, Swanson, Douglas, Mackay-Steven, Dow
Man of the Match: Anthony Stokes [Celtic]
Referee: Craig Thomson