Celtic 3 – 0 Motherwell: Consummate performance earns Scottish Cup

In the last game of the 2010-11 season, Neil Lennon’s remarkable and eventful first full campaign was rewarded with the Scottish Cup at Hampden. A fabulous strike from Ki Sung-Yeung, a deflected Mark Wilson effort (credited to Stephen Craigan) and a thunderbolt free-kick from Charlie Mulgrew sealed an impeccable performance and Celtic’s first Scottish Cup since Jean-Joël Perrier-Doumbé’s goal took the trophy in 2007.

Celtic Lineup

Celtic subdued 4-4-2

Neil Lennon’s preferred formation, favoured XI and pecking order thereafter has by now become crystal clear, and his selection for the final duly corresponds. Gary Hooper and Georgios Samaras continue up front, the latter consistently being preferred over Anthony Stokes for the big games (possibly due to experience in big competition) but also in his favour is his “difference” to first choice Hooper. Hooper and Stokes are both wee poacher-cum-creators but playing a compact, physical game can nullify both. Samaras offers the alternative possibility of route one.

Making up the trademark 3 central midfielders, skewed to the left is Mulgrew, Ki and Scott Brown. Kris Commons is the only change from the 4-0 league victory against the same side last week, coming in for James Forrest on the right.

Player of the year Emilio Izaguirre, Daniel Majstorovic, Glen Loovens and Mark Wilson are the current first pick back four, with Frazer Forster in goals featuring in a Celtic shirt for perhaps the last time.

With only 5 substitutes able to be named (under silly SFA rules), Lennon made sure to include match-changers on the bench: James Forrest (probably the sub with the biggest argument to start), Anthony Stokes, “ultimate sub” Paddy McCourt, defender Cha Du Ri and ‘keeper Lukasz Zaluska.

Motherwell Lineup

Motherwell 4-1-4-1

Stuart McCall made 5 changes to the side that lost at Celtic Park last week, having rested some key players ahead of Motherwell’s first Cup Final since they won it 20 years ago. Top scorer John Sutton, Motherwell Supporter Association’s Player of the year 2011 Keith Lasley, Jamie Murphy, Steve Jennings and Darren Randolph returned to the starting eleven.

While in the meaningless (for Motherwell) SPL match last week the formation was a reasonably ambitious 4-4-2, with so much at stake McCall resorted to a more defensively sound 4-1-4-1. The general consensus on these occasions for smaller teams against the Old Firm is that the first 20 minutes or so are crucial. Keeping a clean sheet for this period can frustrate, so McCall surely made the right decision here.

Impetuous players sees ref set precedent

While pre-match Neil Lennon described the condition of the pitch as “perfect”, it was certainly a sodden day in Glasgow, with the surface extremely slick. As a result, the “up for it” challenges of an impetuous nature led to monstrous sliding lunges. The first deemed to be punishable by Calum Murray was a dreadful tackle by Majstorovic, and were it not so early in the game (9 minutes) could’ve warranted a red. Quickly after, Lasley meted out vigilante justice by hacking down Loovens, blurring the line between red and yellow in similar fashion. But with the precedent set, more bookings were to follow and the rain became a hindrance, forcing the ref and players alike to carefully consider every sliding tackle.

Flanks blocked

The 4-1-4-1 neutered Celtic initially in a number of ways. It is an ideal formation to use against a team that heavily favours the flanks because it’s difficult to be outnumbered. Similar to the way Aiden McGeady used to be doubled up on, Commons was clearly identified as the dangerman and was largely snuffed from the game – thanks to Gunning starting from a deep position, and Murphy dropping deep in front of him. Essentially 2 players in the final third for Commons to circumvent, which had the knock on effect of squeezing out Wilson too.

The other flank was a similar story, if executed differently. Humphrey pressed high up on the right incessantly which gave Izaguirre two options . He could stay back even with his side in possession to prevent counter-attacks. With only one striker to worry about Majstorovic would normally shuttle over and cover Izaguirre, but John Sutton made a point of occupying Majstorovic as close to the centre as possible (trying his best to leave Loovens free). The second option (and with Emilio being Emilio) was to press forward in possession regardless and make use of Humphrey playing so far up.

With Charlie Mulgrew either tied up with Hateley or tucking into the (outnumbered) midfield, the duty lay with Majstorovic to cover Izaguirre.

This free-man situation was untenable, especially with Majstorovic on an early yellow and looking cumbersome bounding across. Perhaps Mulgrew could’ve played wider, and Ki helped to some extent in dropping back to fill the gaps. In previous games, this covering is something Beram Kayal hates to do and for all his qualities, when Izaguirre labours to get back it’s an evident weakness in the side.

The solution was to ensure the Honduran stayed back in such situations, and as a result his attacking impetus was thwarted in different fashion to Commons.

Deadlock Broken

The other area where the 4-1-4-1 vs 4-4-2 is hugely successful, is in the centre where the holding midfield can put an end to any breaks from the likes of Scott Brown or Ki. At least, that’s the strength in theory and Jennings stuck to the task in tenacious fashion. However, the breakthrough came thanks to a lapse in judgement/concentration as Ki was allowed the space and time to cut inside and lineup a perfect strike. Normally sides are so good at denying the Korean a chance to shoot, because when he does it can be fatal.

In image 1, the moment it’s clear that Ki in space is going to receive the pass, note how far up the pitch Jennings is. Note in image 2 how Jennings has barely moved an inch forward, if at all. He’s shuffled sideways but where was the desperate closing down?

Following Gunning’s equally tremendous howitzer that cannoned off Forster’s bar, it was said that this was the difference (or hinted luck) between the sides. But in truth Celtic were the better and more positive side, and the 1-0 lead at half-time was thoroughly deserved.

‘Well worn down

Celtic were buoyed by the goal, and instead of a Motherwell fight-back, were able to maintain possession. The main reason throughout both halves, was that the Motherwell midfield centre 3 were so deep. Brown and Ki were given space and only closed down aggressively (goal aside) once the ball came to them. This meant lots of possession (a massive 62% overall) in safer areas, but also meant Motherwell were starved.

Having discussed the positives of the 4-1-4-1 versus 4-4-2, now the negative. In this deep incarnation, as mentioned above possession was squandered in favour of defensive stability. But the one lapse in concentration undermined it all. If you’re going to go down the “under-siege” route of Mourinho circa 09-10, concentration is everything.

Secondly, arguably their most potent player in John Sutton was relegated to the fringes, with little or no support for his flick-ons. As the pressure piled on, Mark Wilson found a little luck after his deflected shot went in, and McCall at 2 goals down was forced into changes.

Veteran midfielder Hammill was swapped with ‘Fox in the Box’ Francis Jeffers and Motherwell went for a straightforward 4-4-2. Unfortunately, having relinquished possession with the 5 man midfield, the 4 man midfield continued the trend and Motherwell’s fightback was muted. Given the level of players available, McCall’s strategy was sound and correct. But in the end the quality shone through, topped off with a superb Charlie Mulgrew free-kick.

You have to feel for Motherwell getting so far and defending resolutely, but Celtic were able to adapt quite easily to facing closed off flanks. Hooper was a constant menace, his sharpness made clear having hit the bar in the opening seconds (albeit while offside) and the introductions of James Forrest and Anthony Stokes added respective direct pace and guile to a side tiring in the heavy rain. In other squad related matters; strangely, were Joe Ledley and Beram Kayal to be fit, it’s unlikely that Mulgrew or Ki would feature; but they would make the dramatic difference.

Both sides came out with their best plan A, and Lennon’s was executed to a tee. What a fantastic victory for him given the events this year and what a time to be a Celtic supporter.

I’d like to thank everyone for reading and commenting this season. Although I only started in October or so, every match has been a pleasure and I hope everybody has enjoyed the blog as much as I have. I have a quiet week or two planned blog-wise, but watch out in the coming months for Player Profiles (the in-demand Izaguirre/Kayal), more Classic matches, transfer target thoughts and friendly reports. Thanks again for reading. Hail hail.

Hearts 0 – 3 Celtic: Superb win marred by nonsense

Celtic took the race for the SPL title to the final day after a comprehensive victory over Hearts at Tynecastle last night. But once again for Celtic and Neil Lennon in particular, the superb performance was overshadowed by typical anti-Celtic bigotry. This post will concentrate on the actual football, but for thoughts on the Lennon situation, please see my previous post, or a great source of Celtic News and discussion at the brand new and excellent Celtic Fans Media Hub.

Celtic Lineup

Celtic 4-4-2

Tactically, what’s been most challenging for manager Neil Lennon in recent games is the loss of 2 key central midfielders – star man Beram Kayal and the industrious, dependable Joe Ledley. While this has given Ki Sung Yeung a golden opportunity to prove to Celtic fans that he can mix it with the best, it’s also forced Scott Brown inside from the right-midfield role that he’s excelled in this season. But Lennon is keen to preserve the signature 10/11 season formation of  a lop-sided 4-4-2 – as opposed to the risky “high wingers” 4-4-2 that sees both (for example) James Forrest and Kris Commons high up on each flank.

This double winger approach probably enables the “best” players to be on the park at the same time – there’s no doubt that in an attacking sense James Forrest (or Maloney, McCourt, etc) are better players than Charlie Mulgrew. But the system detriments the team in two ways. First of all it forces a real emphasis on wing play, at it’s most successful with Commons on his “correct” left side and the same for Forrest on the right. This stretches the middle of the park, where often Celtic will find themselves a man short (although incidentally not last night at Tynecastle). It’s simply not as defensively sound as the favoured lop-sided formation which sees 3 central midfielders on the park – and with a questionable pair of centre-backs, this is a worry.

The second major disadvantage is the affect the wide midfielders have on the full-backs. It’s been a tremendous season for attacking full-backs in the Hoops, but when the wingers are hugging the touch-line, your ability to get forward is severely inhibited. A third disadvantage is that the strikers do not relish getting on the end of the crosses that a wide 4-4-2 would generate, and last but not least, Kris Commons seems to be more devastating as the player with the freest role starting from the right and cutting onto his favoured left foot.

In general, a myriad of reasons justifying Lennon’s lineup.

Hearts Lineup

Hearts 4-4-2

Jim Jefferies went with a fairly positive formation – not unlike Celtic’s. David Obua tucked in helping out in the centre while Skacel played slightly further forward. Unfortunately for Hearts, the ageing Czech seems to have lost the sharpness that once made him one of the trickiest attackers in the SPL (while still retaining the selfishness).

Winger Ryan Stevenson plugged the gap as targetman up front in the absence of Kevin Kyle with Stephen Elliott playing just off him. Ryan McGowan and Ian Black provided the shield in front of the defence, where Marius Zaliukas returned from absence to Captain the side.

Grip slowly tightens from beginning

Celtic started off well, clearly fired up after last weeks abysmal defeat to Inverness. Hearts (and to some extent Georgios Samaras) started off fairly lazly, giving the ball away continually and with Gary Hooper and Commons looking dangerous and being provided with early ammunition, Hearts (with little to play for in SPL terms) looked interested only in fouling.

The returning Zaliukas having given the ball away in ridiculous circumstance via a free-kick straight to Samaras, shortly afterwards gave the ball away again – only this time Commons setup Hooper for an easy tap-in.

The clearest reason that Celtic were bossing the game, was the ease that Scott Brown and Ki in particular were finding space. The classic trick played time and time again would be for Ki to intelligently draw in two players, Brown would drift into space, and Ki would play him the simple pass. It was brutally effective, and the cleverness of the Korean was a joy to watch. This led to Brown getting into more and more advanced positions, in one case leading to Commons hitting the post.

Red card

As Celtic’s dominance continued, an agitated David Obua recklessly threw a punch at Charlie Mulgrew and was rightly sent-off. This effectively ended the tie as a contest

Hearts 4-4-1

and Jefferies was forced to reshuffle as a result. McGowan swapped roles with Skacel, and Elliott dropped to right midfield.

The intention was to get reasonable crosses onto the head of Stevenson and for Skacel to provide the support (and possibly big-game inspiration) to put the Celtic backline under pressure – and in fairness this worked to some extent.

But into the second half, Hearts were unable to cling onto that one goal deficit that kept them in the match, as superb work from Commons and Ki released Hooper to score his second. It was good movement from Ki to allow the ball to come across him, and the pass as usual was precise.

And if the second goal didn’t end the game as a contest, the shameful attack from a Hearts fan on Neil Lennon certainly did. As the opposing fans verbally tore into each other in the aftermath, the footballing side of the game seemed to vanish and a degree of perspective became apparent. Lennon is simply a man doing his job and to see him persecuted by the bigots of Scotland was at once upsetting and outrageous.

Easy win wrapped up

In-form Kris Commons was rewarded with a goal and Celtic’s third – again linking well with Hooper to blast in. Being on a yellow after a supremely soft booking (getting out of the way of a dodgy lunge from Ian Black, construed as a dive) Commons celebrated his goal by slowly edging into the crowd. But this was enough for referee Craig Thomson to produce a quick-fire second, and Commons had to go.

But by now the damage was done – in all respects. Celtic ran out comfortable winners (with cameos from Shaun Maloney and Daryl Murphy), Hearts had lost control of their own support, and the SFA has now lost it’s respect.

All eyes are now focused on Sunday. Celtic need at least a point from Motherwell while hoping that Rangers (who are a point ahead) lose.

We are all Neil Lennon

It’s with great sadness that this blog yet again is forced to lose focus on the football, and regrettably skirt around the appalling incident that happened midway through Celtic’s 3-0 win over Hearts at Tynecastle. Here a supporter managed to breach the Hearts stadium security and physically assault Neil Lennon on the edge of the technical area. Over the past decade Lennon has been sent death threats, been hospitalised by bigoted thugs, emergency evacuated during the middle of the night in his own home, been sent bullets and most sickening of all live, life-threatening explosive devices.

This sorrowing debacle cast against a backdrop of unsympathetic, clumsy and insensitive media along with a backwards and positively damaging Football Association frozen by its own obsession with self-preservation.

Hearts will be given a slap on the wrists. The league will continue as if nothing ever happened.

The SFA needs change. The media needs to think harder about the way it portrays prominent individuals, the way they stoke the fire and embellish their precious scoops. What will it take for both institutions to change? Another Monica Seles? A bomb to detonate?

Never as a Scot have I been more ashamed of certain elements of this country. This season has been an outrage against Celtic on so many levels. I wish Neil Lennon, all the best whatever happens this season, and wait with despairing interest to see how impotent the Scottish Football Association really is.

 Normal business will resume later this evening/tomorrow where readers can find a report on the football side of the Hearts 0 – 3 Celtic match

Kilmarnock 0 – 2 Celtic: Commons stunner calms nerves as win eked out

A thunderbolt from Kris Commons calmed nerves as Celtic ran out 2-0 winners at Rugby Park today. Scott Brown’s diving header late into first half injury time made it 1-0, but as Celtic failed to convince Commons lashed in his 13th goal for Celtic to decide the match.

Celtic Lineup

Celtic non-standard 4-4-2

Neil Lennon’s hand was forced somewhat in two key selection areas – the first being the choice of strikers. With Georgios Samaras and Anthony Stokes suspended, Lennon’s only choice of partner for Gary Hooper was Daryl Muphy. The former Sunderland player has been unlucky with injuries this season, and as a result has been unable to stake a claim up front. Shaun Maloney would be an outside option, and despite fancying himself as a striker (and can do a job), his previous three managers have only seen fit to play him as a winger.

Lennon has struggled to find a successful alternative to the Hooper/Stokes combination with the more single-minded Samaras seemingly not a great fit. Could Murphy be the “second option” completing a big/little man combination? With two decent wingers on each flank, it looked to be a classic wide 4-4-2 setup.

Similarly in the centre of midfield it was injury that dictated Lennon’s selection. With Joe Ledley and Beram Kayal out for the season, Ki Sung-Yeung got another chance to show why he should be starting. The Korean partnered Scott Brown in the centre, and the Captain’s main success this season has been from on the right. Does he have the positional discipline to complete a double-pivot?

With Charlie Mulgrew a fitness worry, bona fide centre-back Thomas Rogne was restored alongside Daniel Majstorovic, and the rest of the side remained unchanged from Sunday’s serious defeat. A chance to prove a point.

Kilmarnock lineup

Kilmarnock 4-4-1-1

Kilmarnock too had selection difficulties, with James Fowler suspended and Jamie Hamill injured. Willy Aubameyang was dropped as Garry Hay, James Dayton and Kieran Agard started.

Kenny Shiels went with a choice of tactics that covered all sorts of areas. The first, and most obvious was the intention to get the best from Player of the Year contender Alexei Eremenko by playing him in a free role in a 4-4-1-1. Furthermore, as many managers have attempted this season Kilmarnock’s two widemen were positioned high on each flank in an attempt to stifle the rampaging nature of Emilio Izaguirre and Mark Wilson. Finally Kieran Agard was to use his pace and aggression to get stuck into Celtic’s two centre-backs – an area perceived to be Celtic’s weakness this season and one identified by Sheils pre-match, saying his intention was to ‘put pressure on the defence’.

Midfield advantage encourages Killie

Neil Lennon has become well accustomed to facing 5 man midfields, and with a willingness to play strikers the compromise has been to use Scott Brown on the right, tucked in to help out in midfield. We’ve also seen (for example against Dundee Utd last week) a striker dropping deep to help out. But with both Kris Commons and James Forrest playing as out and out wingers and both strikers as high up as possible, there was an obvious numerical deficit in midfield. Unfortunately, as the below image shows the spare man was Eremenko.

Particularly in the opening 30 minutes, Kilmarnock were actually commanding possession and Celtic seemed uncomfortable in midfield. This wasn’t helped at all by Izaguirre’s unsuccessful charges up field, and he was uncharacteristically slow in getting back into position putting a burden on Ki to cover or Majstorovic to shuffle over.

This disadvantage in the centre was also dragging Murphy deep and away from targetman duties, so Sheils’ tactics were causing havoc. For every “man advantage” there is an equal and opposite result – but here Celtic’s spare man was one of Rogne or Majstorovic. And with Agard doing a fine job in occupying both and with neither that comfortable with the ball at feet getting forward, Celtic’s spare man was insignificant.

Quality surfaces (eventually)

Jonathan Wilson recently wrote “A good tactic is not necessarily a winning tactic, but one that manipulates the percentages” and nothing could ring more true than here. Despite Shiels’ best strategy, Celtic survived long enough to create some chances of their own. With the quality of players like Hooper and Commons, who each had the ball in the back of the net only to be chopped off, it’s only a matter of time before chances would be created.

But strangely it was the player on targetman duty who supplied the cross that led to the breakthrough. Murphy held the ball up well way out left, swept in a lovely back-post cross (harking back to his spell as a winger at Sunderland) and James Forrest knocked it down for Brown to head in. It’s always positive to see midfielders making that extra effort to get into the box for crosses, and Forrest and Brown reaped the reward.

Game seen out

The late goal seemed to invigorate Celtic as they came out the blocks for the second half, and Kilmarnock seemed to lose a little belief. With both Commons and Forrest not double-marked (as has been the tradition against Celtic wingers), there should’ve been a higher level of performance, certainly in Forrest’s case. But he was coming more into the game as it opened out in the second half, launching in some decent crosses and putting Hay under pressure.

Indeed it was after Shaun Maloney came on for Forrest (and Commons was shifted right) that the killer goal came about. Cutting in onto his favoured left, Commons smashed in from 25 yards – again a refreshing positive – a midfielder that loves nothing more to shoot from distance. It was his 13th goal for Celtic and his 26th of the season (including Derby) – a stunning return for a left midfielder and a heck of a bargain at £300k.

After Izaguirre picked up a knock, he was replaced by Mulgrew and similarly McCourt was given a wee cameo on for Hooper in the dying minutes, just enough time for one slalom style run that he’s famous for.

All in all Celtic won’t be anything less than delighted with the three points and clean sheet, but it was worrying how well Kilmarnock were able to dominate (first half) possession and stifle play. On another day this could’ve been a much more frustrating afternoon, but now all eyes to Rangers Vs Dundee Utd on Tuesday night.

Celtic 4 – 1 Dundee Utd: Celtic hit four but should’ve had more

With Rangers having played 2 more games and being 4 points ahead, Celtic hosted a tricky Dundee Utd on Sunday afternoon. Despite the best efforts of the likes of Steven Naismith to pile on the pressure (with nonsense tabloid filler), Celtic were composed enough to dispatch of the Tangerines – but both managers were left with differing levels of frustration

Celtic Lineup

Celtic 4-4-2

With Joe Ledley out injured for the season, Lennon’s first selection choice was to either introduce Ki Sung-Yeung (or Juarez?) in a straight swap, or shift Scott Brown central. He went with the latter option, presumably with the idea that the Kayal/Brown combo is a more robust choice in dealing with the physical three man midfield likely to be employed by his Dundee Utd counterpart.

With Brown inside, Kayal shifted into the left central spot (not his preferred) and in line with Lennon’s preferred slightly lop-sided 4-4-2, Kris Commons was slightly withdrawn on the right (in the ‘Scott Brown’ role) with James Forrest high up as an out and out winger on the left.

The other big decision was Anthony Stokes in for Georgios Samaras – off the back of an (almost) match-changing performance as a substitute against Rangers. Stokes has now contributed 19 goals (joint top club scorer) and 10 assists – and seems to have a much better understanding with first choice Gary Hooper than his forward competition.

Dundee Utd Lineup

Dundee Utd 4-1-4-1 / 4-3-3

Peter Houston set out in extremely similar fashion to the previous two encounters between the two sides. Out of possession a deep and disciplined 4-1-4-1 and in possession a quick counter-attacking 4-3-3. Paul Dixon, Morgaro Gomis and Sean Dillon all returned to the side after a 4-2 win over Kilmarnock, at the expense of Barry Douglas, David Robertson and Keith Watson.

Slack early period – from both sides

Generally when Celtic are outnumbered four to five in midfield, one of the strikers takes up the role of dropping deeper to linkup play, and this has never been more evident than here against Dundee Utd. It was Stokes who was playing “off the shoulder” as high as possible, and Hooper was the linkup man, often playing so deep as to blur the line between “second striker” and “attacking midfielder”.

But causing massive concern to Lennon was Stokes’ inability to hold up the ball, play the simple pass and bring others into the game. Sometimes even the simple stuff was eluding Stokes. This isn’t too surprising as it’s not that common for a small striker to be playing a classic “holding up” role, even while most of the supply was (presumably intentionally) below headering height. But this also underlines a continuing problem up front – the lack of alternative style. All three of Hooper, Stokes and Samaras prefer deck football, and this is a relatively new problem since Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink left the club.

While Lennon verbally tore chunks out of Stokes, the decision to restore him to the side eventually did pay off however, after the young Irishman exploited a mistake by Gary Kenneth to supply Gary Hooper with an easy finish, another notch for that most fruitful of partnership. Stokes came close with a wonderful looping long-range effort and clearly the “encouragement” from Lennon was taking effect.

Equally Peter Houston was greatly concerned by his sides inability to hold onto the ball, despite the numerical(ish) advantage in midfield and most frustratingly despite Celtic’s own charitable acts of giving away. Houston knew Celtic weren’t quite clicking and knew that if his side could boss possession, they could start creating chances.

Target areas and tactical adjustments – from both sides

In Celtic’s most worrying first half spell, Dundee Utd were getting great pleasure from the areas behind the Majstorovic and Mulgrew, and David Goodwillie’s and Craig Conway’s pace coupled with Frazer Forster’s indecisive dealing with balls over the top were causing some hair-raising moments.

At the other end, James Forrest was returned to his favoured right flank, another main possession offender. While he did make decent headway down the left, his criminal lack of a left foot voided his own good work and therefore Commons was also able to resume duty in his own favoured area.

Into the second half and Brown and Kayal, the epitome of a tenacious midfield, were beginning to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and in what better way than to score a screamer? Kayal won the ball, jinked past his man and fired in an unstoppable left footer from 25 yards.

Peter Houston was understandably frustrated as one goal was mainly a defensive blunder, and the second quite extraordinary and so he made his change to salvage a goal from this game. With Bauben’s offensive intention successfully shackled by his opposite number Scott Brown, he was swapped for targetman Jon Daly and Utd went 4-4-2 and man for man in the centre.

Further deterioration from Utd, but one positive note

While this was the only realistic strategic change Houston could’ve gambled on (and the intention was to further pressure the slightly frayed Celtic back-line), the lack of bodies in midfield only intensified Brown and Kayal’s stranglehold on the game. And with Kris Commons also tormenting Sean Dillon, a sharper (or luckier) Celtic could easily have scored a number of further goals.

At 2-0 Lennon rung the changes, with Ki coming on for the disappointing Forrest (moving Brown out right), bringing Shaun Maloney on for Gary Hooper in a like for like swap, and eventually giving Daryl Murphy some rare gametime in place of Brown. Encouragingly, the three gave good accounts for themselves with Maloney creating the killer third goal, Ki his usual effective and dependable passing self, and Murphy scoring a later wonder-goal skinning four tired Utd defenders and lofting the keeper. Maybe Murphy is the second up front option Lennon is looking for after all?

One positive change for Dundee Utd was the introduction of Johnny Russell. Played on the right as an “inverted” winger, his quick feet and acceleration provided a real thorn in Celtic’s side. Charlie Mulgrew was especially finding it hard when Russell cut in onto Mulgrew’s weaker right, first hitting the post after a tremendous mazy run, then lobbing Frazer Forster when perhaps he should’ve scored, but finally did get on the score sheet after dodgy defending at the back yet again.

Conclusion and look North

There were mixed reports on Celtic’s handling of this game across the media, and while the first two goals were arguably rather fortunate, there were countless other “unfortunate” chances to balance the scale. In fact in agreeance with Neil Lennon, Celtic could of and maybe should have had many more.

James Forrest’s ineffect, particular on the left could point to a slight change of system for Lennon on Wednesday against Inverness – perhaps adding Ki to the midfield and returning Scott Brown to the right hand side where he’s done so well this season. And depending on the pitch condition up North, Lennon may gamble on the likes of Samaras or Murphy for a more route one approach. At this stage of the campaign goal difference is of little importance compared to the demand for three points, so will Stokes be sacrificed again?