Celtic 5 Dundee United 0 - report

Celtic 5 Dundee United 0

Celtic 5 Dundee United 0

The champions of Scotland are just three games into the new Premier League campaign - but already Rangers look like the only team capable of stopping them from claiming their third successive title.

Even without Robert Douglas, Bobby Petta, Bobo Balde, Paul Lambert and Didier Agathe they had enough in reserve to comfortably secure the points by half-time after goals from Jackie McNamara, Chris Sutton and Stilian Petrov.

Late second-half goals for substitute John Hartson and Henrik Larsson completed the rout over the dismal visitors as they maintained their 100% winning start to the new SPL campaign.

Manager Martin O’Neill could even afford the luxury of handing debuts to summer signings Magnus Hedman and Ulrik Laursen as his side again showed their rapid powers of recovery after the Champions League victory over FC Basle in midweek.

But the fact is they never really had to get out of third gear against a poor United side, who were fortunate not to more than three down at the interval.

Celtic midfielder Petrov spoke about setting himself a target of 15 SPL goals this season and he almost opened his account twice in the first two minutes of the game.

Sutton teed the ball up to the Bulgarian outside the box and he drilled a fierce right-footed shot that flew just wide although referee Kenny Clark felt Paul Gallacher had touched it.

Moments later Petrov was again given far too much room by the United defence, but this time the visiting goalkeeper definitely managed to keep his right-footed effort out.

Petrov continued to look dangerous and after 11 minutes he played Larsson into a good position, but after shrugging off the presence of Jamie McCunnie he blazed over the bar.

The Swede should have again broken the deadlock in the 16th minute when Sutton played him through in the box, but his weak effort was comfortably blocked by United keeper Gallacher.

But United’s early aspirations were short-lived and in the 24th minute the home side were in front from an unlikely source.

Steve Guppy spotted McNamara unmarked and he knocked the ball into his path for him to drive an unstoppable right-footed shot past the despairing dive of Gallacher and into the corner.

But any chance the visitors had of coming back all but evaporated all thanks to the hapless Jim Lauchlan.

The former Kilmarnock defender controlled a Guppy cross, but failed to clear it and Sutton happily stepped in to fire under Gallacher to the disbelief of his team-mates and his manager.

Larsson wasted another chance to increase Celtic’s lead further more after 28 minutes after being played in by Petrov, but he screwed his effort wide of the mark.

But the pair combined four minutes later to kill off their visitors well before the break.

Gallacher made a good save to deny the Swede, but the Bulgarian reacted quicker than the United defence to fire the rebound home from close range for his belated first goal of the season.

United were in shock and the situation could have got even worse just four minutes before the break.

Glory again flashed before McNamara’s eyes after Petrov’s corner had come to him outside the area, but this time his right-footed effort looped just over the crossbar.

After the break an eery silence descended over Parkhead with the result assured, but O’Neill wanted more goals and made a treble substitution with John Hartson, David Fernandez and Stephen Crainey all coming on for Sutton, Lennon and Johan Mjallby.

His decision would have the desired affect, but first Petrov deserved to double his tally in the 73rd minute when he did well to get on the end of Larsson knock-down and control the ball, but watched his lob hit the top of the crossbar.

United finally came to life moments later when the ineffective Steven Thompson found space in the box, but his tame shot was saved by Hedman for his first test of the afternoon.

At the other end Gallacher needed to be brave to save at the feet of Hartson, but the Welshman hit the net in the 78th minute when he headed Guppy’s corner home from close range.

And an emphatic Celtic win would not be complete without Larsson scoring and he was on hand to head Fernandez’s cross into the net from close range with just 10 minutes remaining.

Hartson blazed wide late on after a good touch from the Swede and soon after the whistle came to the relief of United.

An angry Smith was surely waiting for them in the dressing room - in contrast to that of the home side, who again have the prospect of another successful season ahead of them.

It appears only Rangers can have a say in that.

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