51 and counting…

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Leigh Griffiths got proceedings under way last night at Tannadice with his 50th goal for Celtic. It was such a superb finish on his weaker right foot that he even managed nutmeg Dundee United keeper Eiji Kawashima in the process.

That was the opener for Celtic but there was more to come. A free kick floated in from the left  found the head of Jozo Šimunović who duly finished from close range to get his first goal for the club.

After a brief stutter at the beginning of his Celtic career with injury, the Croation is slowly introducing some assurance and composure to the backline. In fact I would be be doing the defence an injustice if I did not mention his counterpart these past few games, Efe Ambrose.

Efe has been the culprit of some key blunders for Celtic, all of which I’ve tried to forget. Since stepping in to replace the injured Dedryck Boyata though, he has looked more comfortable and last night he was in good form.

I would give him a bit longer before I am convinced he has turned a corner though. This is no time to get carried away on the back of a few games against Partick Thistle (9th), Stanraer (League Two) and Dundee United (bottom).

Despite that defensive stability United pulled back a goal after a ball was played through to Simon Murray. I take nothing away from the pass and finish but it was sloppy play by Celtic who had more than enough players behind the ball to deal with this.

Griffiths would add to his own tally by scoring the third goal of the match and his 51st for the club with another right footed finish. He was positively sailing at this stage and was in the hunt for the hattrick.

That would not come to fruition despite being a constant menace. Instead Kris Commons, so quiet for much of the game, would round things off style.

That is often the gift with the 32 year-old and why he is always worth keeping on the park ahead of others such as the disappointing Stefan Johansen. After some nifty footwork by Tom Rogić, he found Stuart Armstrong wide on the left who in turn put in a perfect cross to Commons who smashed in an excellent volley.

This was a great all round performance by the Hoops. They looked confident and positive again but they need to keep that up from now until the end of the season.

Armstrong who had just come back from injury was a thorn in the side of his old club. His prowess in the first half was unfortunate not to produce a goal but his involvement in the game was significant, such was the rough treatment he got in return.

After putting in a tireless effort, he made way for Scott Allan. Allan is a player we may not see enough of until next season but at least he is getting more game time albeit from the bench.

Once more Kieran Tierney put in a hungry performance. Had it not been for the second game in a row where received some rough treatment on his shoulder, he would have finished the match last night.

That allowed a rare appearance for Emilio Izaguirre. Not enough game time for him to impose himself though.

Rogić was a constant menance and involved in everything. He was substituted, much to his disappointment, in all likelihood to keep him hungry for the midweek game against Hamilton.

His replacement James Forrest began to cause problems for Dundee United. However, he was probably more notable for his handball in the Celtic penalty box which was overlooked by the very inept match officials.

I think United had about three claims altogether. I wouldnt necessarily say they were all penalties but the Forrest handball was a stonewaller.

At least the officials were consistently poor for both teams. Poor judgement was so frequent with Griffiths’ ‘offside’ decisions that they were almost the story of the game.

For a team who are rooted to the bottom of the table though, Dundee United showed enough desire to suggest they could be further up the league standings. Perhaps it is the fact they are fighting for their Scottish Premiership survival that is bringing out such displays or that Celtic took three of their best players?

Whatever the case this was an encounter at Tannadice that wouldn’t have disappointed even the neutral fan. And speaking of fans, the travelling Celtic support were in fine voice at Tannadice.

I’m sure Friday night inebriation played a big part but the singing was great. I particulalry enjoyed the constant rendition of singing about former Celtic players.

For Celtic it was another victory January to help them toward reacipgphing a possible treble. In contrast, Dundee United are a step closer to relegation

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Composure in the cup

Celtic booked their place in fifth round of the Scottish Cup with a 3-0 away win over Stranraer. This was a composed performance which in truth could have had a far greater scoreline for the Hoops.

Part of that was down to 18-year-old Max Currie playing in-goal for Stranraer for only his second start and third competitive appearance for the club. He pulled off some magnificent saves at Stair Park which saved his team from a drubbing.

A gulf between teams is often evident by what you can spend on players and wages. Stranraer were plucky though and even started the better team.

The opening moments of the game saw them come at Celtic. Eventually though the Hoops would get a foothold in the match and would not let up.

In terms of performance, this was one of Celtic’s best of the season. Yes, this isn’t a Scottish Premiership side or even European opponent but the attitude of Ronny Deila’s players was correct.

That’s been a rarely seen thing this season. So what was different and what’s changed?

Well aside from playing a Scottish League One club, Carlton Cole started the match though not as a sole striker. He partnered Leigh Griffiths who was himself returning to the starting line up.

I was surprised to see a 4-4-2 formation as much as anyone. As I said in my previous blog though, it suits some games and you need to be able to adapt.

Despite resembling a collapsing building at times, Cole put himself about. He may be at that stage of his career where he doesn’t have the legs, pace or sharpness but his presence was certainly felt.

I miss having a player like that as an option even if not a regular. For that reason I welcomed his inclusion on Sunday and he was to be rewarded as well.

However, it was the effervescent Leigh Griffiths who would draw first blood. A nicely weighted diagonal pass from Callum McGregor found Celtic’s leading scorer who netted a perfect finish.

Then came Carlton Cole’s goal. A cross from Nir Bitton found Cole at the back post to head home from very close range.

Throughout the game there were countless chances for Celtic. As I said, if it were not for the heroics of Max Currie, it could have been far more punishing for Stranraer.

Griffiths was denied and missed further opportunities. The same goes for Cole, Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen and Scott Allan.

In fact it was Allan that turned provider for the third goal. He slipped through a ball to the marauding Griffiths to complete the win.

Celtic should take a lot of positives out of this game. It was their best performance for a long time, regardless of the level of opponent.

There were a couple of moments Celtic got lucky with. One was an apparent handball by Efe Ambrose in his own box and the other a Leigh Griffiths reaction to a challenge.

Ambrose got lucky but depending on retrospective action, Griffiths might not be. His reaction to a Stranraer player’s challenge was caught on camera but as yet, I’ve read nothing about it other than Twitter retweets.

Sadly, the match was blighted before it even kicked off thanks to some morons. Several flares were let off prior to kick off by some travelling Celtic supporters.

I don’t know what motivates you to throw anything onto the field of play to be honest. There is one thing I do know though and that is by doing this you drag down the name of the club and the reputation of the supporters.

Whoever you are, whatever your objective is, it isn’t smart/cool/clever/funny/safe etc. You need to learn some social skills and pay attention to the game or just get lost for good.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac