Published: 21st December 2014
Dundee United provided Arabs everywhere with a fantastic early Christmas present on Sunday, as they defeated Celtic 2-1 in an action packed game at Tannadice.
By Greg Watson
Nadir Ciftci gave United an early lead with a fantastic bit of opportunism, before Stuart Armstrong doubled United’s lead with a second-half header.
Leigh Griffiths pulled one back late on for the champions, but United held on for a win that sees them move up to second place in the table, and just four points behind the Glasgow side.
Jackie McNamara made three changes from the Aberdeen defeat; with Callum Morris, Calum Butcher and Blair Spittal coming in John Souttar, Paul Paton and Ryan Dow. Celtic were unchanged from last week’s win against St Mirren.
From the outset, United looked keen to make amends for last week’s performance and they made the perfect start to the game by going in front in the fifth minute.
Sean Dillon did well to win the ball in midfield and go bombing up the right flank. He then cleverly found Armstrong with a cutback, whose attempted pass to Chris Erskine cannoned off of Efe Ambrose and into the path off of Ciftci, who took his time and strongly held off Ambrose before rifling the ball past Craig Gordon to give United the lead.
Celtic exerted a lot of pressure on the United defence in their search for an equaliser, with full-backs Adam Matthews and Emilio Izaguirre pushing right up the park and combining well with James Forrest and Anthony Stokes on the flanks.
Radoslaw Cierzniak did well to preserve his side’s advantage, rushing out quickly to block from Stefan Johansen after John Guidetti had slid the midfielder in behind the United defence.
Gordon then produced an outstanding fingertip save, denying Conor Townsend after the United left-back drove a shot across goal from the edge of the box, following some good, patient build-up play from The Terrors.
United then had one more scare before half-time. Cierzniak’s attempted punch clear from a Celtic corner came of Nir Biton’s head, bounced off of the crossbar and Jarek Fojut had to clear Virgil van Dijk’s rebound header off of the line to maintain United’s advantage at the interval.
Ciftci was giving Ambrose a difficult afternoon, and early in the second period he robbed the Celtic centre-back out on United’s left, cut inside and shot low at Gordon, who had to turn the ball round the post.
Celtic then had a couple of big chances to level. First a Stokes cross came off Sean Dillon and landed on the United bar, and Forrest screwed the rebound wide of goal. Stokes then had a good chance himself, but could only put his free header over the bar.
United made Celtic rue those misses by doubling their advantage in the sixty-fifth minute. Ciftci collected a Dillon throw-in and expertly wriggled and muscled his way past Izaguirre at the by-line, cut in onto his left foot and dinked a delightful cross to Armstrong, who powered a header off of Gordon and into the net at the ‘keeper’s near-post.
Stefan Scepovic came on to replace Guidetti, and thought he had pulled one back when he confidently tucked away an Izaguirre lay-off, but was ruled offside despite appearing to be onside by a couple of yards.
Izaguirre was then called upon to defend at the other end; clearing Erskine’s header off of the line at the back-post, following an Armstrong corner.
Griffiths came off of the bench and soon set up a tense finale, as he ran onto fellow substitute, Kris Commons’ pass and fired past Cierzniak.
Despite riding their luck on a few occasions, United deserved their good fortune after putting in a battling and committed performance, defending well and taking their chances. The win provides a vital three points at the start of the festive fixtures, and The Arabs will be hoping for more of the same in the two derby matches to come.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Nadir Ciftci. With United putting in such a good all-round performance it’s extremely hard to single out any individual, but Ciftci gave the Celtic defence a torrid time, as well scoring the first goal and assisting the second, so he edges the vote.
UNITED: Cierzniak, Dillon, Morris, Fojut, Townsend, Butcher, Rankin, Spittal, Armstrong, Erskine, Ciftci (Dow 82’)
Subsitutes: Szromnik, Spark, Wilson, Telfer, Coote, Dow, Adeyemo.
CELTIC: Gordon, Matthews, Ambrose, van Dijk, Izaguirre, Biton (Griffiths 78’), Brown, Forrest, Johansen, Stokes (Commons 60’), Guidetti (Scepovic 60’)
REFEREE: Steven McLean