Robbie Keane netted his first goal at Celtic Park to give the Hoops a deserved three points against Dundee United. He struck with 20 minutes on the clock, latching on to a superb through ball from Diomansy Kamara and slotting the ball under the advancing Dusan Pernis.
Chances continued to flow for Tony Mowbray’s men throughout the game, but Keane’s intervention was enough to secure a vital victory which closes the gap with Rangers at top of the table to seven points.
Tony Mowbray made several changes to the team that drew with Aberdeen last week. Thomas Rogne made his first start for the Hoops, partnering fellow teenager Josh Thompson in central defence. Andreas Hinkel returned from injury at right-back, while Ki Sung Yueng took the place of the suspended Aiden McGeady in midfield.
The opening minutes were largely devoid of incident, but Celtic looked the more likely to open the scoring. With United sitting deep, like so many visiting teams at Celtic Park, many of the Hoops’ best openings came on the counter-attack through the pace of Keane, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Diomansy Kamara.
Fortune in particular continued his recent good form by creating havoc down United’s left straight from the kick-off. On several occasions, he beat his marker and cut the ball back across goal, winning a number of corners free-kicks from desperate defending from the visitors.
The door remained bolted, however, to the 20 minute mark when Keane scored his first goal at Celtic Park. Kamara picked the ball up on the halfway line and played a perfect pass in behind the United defence for the Irishman who beat the offside trap and coolly rolled the ball under the body of Dusan Pernis, before taking the adulation of a jubilant home support.
On the balance of play it was certainly a deserved lead for the Hoops. The visitors, who had barely threatened, won a corner, which Jon Daly headed wide of the far post.
But it was the home side who looked the more likely to add to their tally. Fortune won another free-kick on right in the 33rd minute. Kamara took it quickly, playing a low ball to Keane around the penalty spot, but his effort was blocked by the United defence.
Rogne, who had looked composed and assured at the back on his first Hoops start, also came close to opening his account two minutes later, rising highest at the back-post from a Ki corner, but his header crept agonisingly wide.
As the half drew to a close, the play continued to flow towards the United goal and only Pernis’ reflexes kept the score at 1-0. Keane’s clever movement had caused the Terrors backline all sorts of problems. This time he found space on the left, before finding Fortune with a low pass. The striker’s shot was blocked into the path of the onrushing Scott Brown who stung the United stopper’s hands with a rasping drive.
The Hoops looked determined to continue where they left off in the first-half after the break, with Keane again at the centre of the action. His looping cross picked out Fortune in the six-yard box, but he failed to make a good connection with his shot.
As the half progessed the Terrors began to show more ambition and Buaben had their first strike on goal, firing over from the edge of the area, before Jon Daly dragged another shot wide from distance.
As the visitors grew more adventurous though, it also created more space for the home side to exploit. Kamara rifled in a powerful shot from 25 yards which Pernis struggled to grasp, then Scott Brown collected a loose ball in the box, but shot over with his left foot.
On 62 minutes, Celtic set off on a wonderful counter-attack. One-touch passing saw Kamara drive down the left. His low cross-field ball was picked up by Brown, who played in Keane, but Pernis was equal to the Irishman’s powerful shot, pushing the ball wide for a corner.
A series of substitutions took place from both sides as Celtic looked to consolidate their lead and United pushed for the equaliser.
With 15 minutes remaining, one of the new arrivals, Zheng Zhi showed good composure on the left, timing a ball through for the impressive Landry NGuemo. The Cameroon internationalist raced into the box and drilled a low shot which looked destined for the far corner, until Pernis’ showed great athleticism to turn the ball past the post.
In truth, Celtic had looked secure at the back, but Daly could have stolen an undeserved point when he found himself with just Artur Boruc to beat in the six-yard box with just 10 minutes remainging.
But the Polish keeper, who was also celebrating his birthday, was equal to the task, spreading himself well to pull off an important save. After that the Hoops held on comfortably for a vital three points.