Celtic comfortable winners over Dundee United

Georgios Samaras and Anthony Stokes scored first-half goals as Scottish Premiership champions Celtic ran out comfortable winners over Dundee United.

Dundee United and Celtic players in the tunnel (26th April 2015)
Two out of three ain’t bad: Celtic have now won two of the three league meetings with Dundee United this season (Picture from Sky Sports)

GOALS from Georgios Samaras and Anthony Stokes in the first half secured a routine victory for champions Celtic over European chasing Dundee United.

Kris Commons was the provider for both with Samaras volleying home a free-kick inside five minutes and Stokes latching onto a through-ball to fire into the roof of the net.

United improved after the break with half-time substitute Gary Mackay-Steven calling keeper Fraser Forster into action.

But the Hoops were worthy winners as victory number 28 in the Scottish Premiership this season took them 28 points clear at the top.

A first loss in five games dealt a blow for the Tangerines, who stayed six points behind Motherwell and Aberdeen in second and third respectively in the race for Europa League qualification.

United have now failed to win any of the last eight meetings with the Hoops, who won 1-0 on their last Tannadice visit back in August and salvaged a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park in November.

But the Tayside outfit came into their final fixture before the split as the division’s form team with six wins from eight league outings and just one defeat in 11 in all competitions.

Nadir Ciftci and Andrew Robertson returned to the side after missing the gripping 1-1 draw at Pittodrie last weekend through suspension with Mackay-Steven and John Souttar dropping out.

Leigh Griffiths had to be content with a place on the Celtic bench, along with youngster Eoghan O’Connell, after being issued with a notice of complaint by the SFA for mocking the financial situation of Hearts when watching the Edinburgh derby with Hibernian fans at Tynecastle.

Beram Kayal started for the first time since the Champions League clash with AC Milan in November and Georgios Samaras made his 250th appearance for the club as Neil Lennon made two changes from last weekend’s lacklustre 1-1 draw with Ross County.

Their third successive title was already secured after the 5-1 thrashing of Partick Thistle – the earliest the top-flight has been wrapped up since 1929 – but Celtic showed their continued determination to win inside five minutes.

An inswinging free-kick from top scorer Commons was hooked beautifully into the top corner by Samaras amid statuesque United defending.

The deft finish from the Greek international, in his third start of 2014, for his fifth league goal of the campaign put the superior champions in charge.

But they were almost pegged back three minutes later when Gavin Gunning, with four goals in his previous eight appearances, sliced off target from 12 yards as Robertson crossed from the left.

It was the first United foray into Celtic territory and a positive reaction from the hosts but could not impose their passing rhythm or penetrate in the final third.

The visitors were composed in possession and patiently probed, doubling their lead on 24 minutes.

Stokes constructed a neat one-two with Commons and powered past Sean Dillon to rifle ruthlessly into the net for his sixth goal in as many games against Dundee United.

Nadir Ciftci, with five goals in his previous six games, curled narrowly off target from 25 yards and lashed straight at Forster but the Terrors could not match the high tempo of the dominant Hoops.

Another Commons free-kick caused United worry with Samaras heading over from close range but was flagged offside while United keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak gathered in a cushioned Stokes effort as Celtic were in command at the break.

United offered merely a sporadic attacking threat and searched for inspiration, which arrived in the form of Gary Mackay-Steven.

The Scotland international – on at half-time for Brian Graham for his 100th United appearance – was the spark in a strong start to the second half for the hosts.

With Adam Matthews, Mikael Lustig and Darnell Fisher out injured, captain Scott Brown was deployed at right-back and began to be troubled.

Keith Watson popped a header over from Ryan Dow’s cross inside the first 60 seconds as United were re-energised.

Dow clinically finished past Forster when latching onto a threaded through-ball from Mackay-Steven but ran in behind from an offside position.

Watson then steered a left-foot shot inches wide of the target from another opening orchestrated by Mackay-Steven.

Leigh Griffiths entered the fray in place of the SPL’s young player of the month for March Liam Henderson as the 17-year-old midfielder, making his third start in four games, could not make a significant impact.

Boss Lennon shared a joke with referee Craig Thomson after being warned about encroaching onto the pitch.

His mood would have been even happier if Celtic had added to their lead, almost snatching a third to make the points safe with 20 minutes to go.

United surrendered possession through Dillon and Griffiths saw a snapshot turned around the post by an unsighted Cierzniak before Griffiths curled inches wide from the edge of the box.

As the Hoops enjoyed another prominent spell of pressure, Cierzniak made a vital intervention with his feet to deny the hesitant Commons, who was slipped in by Virgil van Dijk after the Dutch defender cleverly exchanged passes with Stokes.

Stokes then tangled with Stuart Armstrong but no action was taken against the Celtic forward for brushing his hand against the face of the United skipper.

The action swayed from end to end as the intensity dipped late on with Stokes close to controlling a raking Commons to race clean through on goal.

Mackay-Steven, meanwhile, had a low shot turned around the post by Forster from 22 yards.

Celtic took the steam out of any United flurry as Griffiths brought a good save out of Cierzniak with a fine volley.

Amido Balde replaced Samaras and former Hull defender Steven Mouyokolo made his first appearance since August’s Champions League qualifier with Shakhter Karagandy after long-term injury as Celtic were able to shake up their personnel and close out the latter stages with ease.

The Hoops will be presented with the Premiership trophy on the final day of the season when United visit Celtic Park.

The Tangerines are in Glasgow next Saturday to face Rangers at Ibrox in their eagerly-awaited Scottish Cup semi-final clash and, with Motherwell and Aberdeen still to come at home, still harbour realistic hopes of claiming the runners-up spot.

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