CELTIC were knocked out by a couple of late sucker punches at Tannadice, losing 2-1 following two goals in the closing stages from Dundee United.
Tony Mowbray’s men had looked like they were in control for large parts of the match, particularly in a first half that they dominated and took the lead through a Barry Robson penalty.
But they could not hold out for the win and fell to two goals in the last seven minutes of the game, with Jon Daly and Darren Dods scoring for the home side.
There were doubts as to whether or not this game would actually go ahead, with heavy rainfall and flooding in the week before and a recent game at Tannadice being abandoned midway through the second half.
However, a pitch inspection was passed with flying colours and the surface was in excellent condition.
An unlikely suspect fired off the first shot in the eighth minute, when the busy Marc Crosas put in a well-timed challenge in midfield and released Andy Hinkel.
Cutting inside the German full-back, who has one goal from his previous 76 appearances for the club, broke forward and unleashed a low, left-footed shot that was saved by Nicky Weaver.
Celtic continued to look bright and busy in the first half, with Crosas particularly influential and Marc-Antoine Fortune also had two great chances which were set up by Aiden McGeady.
On both occasions the striker was hesitant, opting to take a touch when put through on goal and United were able to recover and clear their lines.
McGeady also teed up Scott McDonald ten minutes before half-time and saw his team-mate swivel and miss the ball six yards in front of goal, then moments later Hinkel got to the bye-line and drove a ball across the face of goal that was deflected away from Fortune.
The pressure continued to build in the lead-up to half-time, although the home side did threaten with one quick counter-attack before half-time when Jennison Myrie-Williams ran at the Celtic defence with Danny Cadamarteri unmarked and in space to his left.
The United winger failed to spot his team-mate and was brought down by Glenn Loovens, with Paul Dixon blazing the resulting free kick over the bar. This was a rare chance in a half that was mainly dominated by Celtic.
Perhaps sensing that Tony Mowbray’s men were taking control of the game, United immediately sought to make an impact at the start of the second half and Myrie-Williams fired off an early warning shot.
This was followed by another attempt in the 53rd minute and when Prince Buaben was given time to shoot from 30 yards out he forced an excellent save from Lukas Zaluska. Then, from the resulting corner, Damian Casalinuovo hit the crossbar with a header.
It was a little reminder, if ever it was needed, of the quality in this United team and Mowbray made the first change of the match, bringing on Georgios Samaras for Fortune. Within minutes of his arrival the Greek sent a ball fizzing across the edge of the six yard box which McDonald failed to reach.
With play quickening, it took an excellent challenge from Gary Caldwell to block Casalinuovo as he attempted to get on the end of a Myrie-Williams cut back.
Then, in the next break forward, Robson wrong-footed Dods and jinked into the penalty box, where the Dundee United man brought him down. Robson stepped up to take the penalty himself and sent Weaver the wrong way to give Celtic the lead.
However they failed to add to their tally or take full control of the game and, moments after the goal, they were given a warning when Daly had a glorious chance with his first touch after coming on as a substitute, heading the ball over the bar from just a couple of yards out.
Then, with eight minutes to go, the Irishman again found himself unmarked, in yards of space and able to climb unchallenged and head home a Danny Swanson corner.
It was a disappointing way to concede, but Celtic failed to learn their lesson and with seconds of regulation time remaining, Swanson swung in another corner and Andy Webster blocked the run of Loovens, allowing Dods a free header, which he duly bulleted home. It gave Celtic no time to equalise.
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