CELTIC 4 DUNDEE UNITED 2
FOR a horrible moment it looked as though Celtic had tossed away two vital points when Dundee United claimed a freakish equaliser with only three minutes to go at Parkhead.
The champions had dominated proceedings, but had worryingly failed to apply the killer touch.
Stalemated at 2-2, the match went into four-minute stoppage-time and that was enough for substitutes Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada to get the goals in a breathtaking conclusion to make sure the points remained in the east end of Glasgow.
Coincidentally, the Japanese striker and the Israeli winger both hit hat-tricks when these teams last met at Tannadice in August.
VAR knocked the Hoops out of their stride yet again after Sead Haksabanovic had hit his first Celtic goal in the sixth minute before adding a second before half-time.
DOUBLE SALVO…Sead Haksabanovic celebrated his first goals for the Hoops in the dramatic win over Dundee United.
In the fourth minute, Filipe Jota swept an Anthony Ralston right-wing cross past the post when the fans’ favourite had time to take a touch and compose himself before releasing a shot.
Two minutes later, Reo Hatate sent Jota racing clear on the left and the Portuguese flyer whipped the ball to the far post where Haksabanovic arrived to apply a superb finishing touch at a tight angle.
The Montenegro international celebrated his debut strike for the Hoops in fine style.
In the ninth minute, United were gifted a ludicrous penalty-kick after VAR assistant Nick Walsh, the match official who created so much chaos and confusion at Tynecastle a fortnight ago, instructed David Dickinson to check the monitor after Alexando Bernabei was adjudged to have handled a header from Steven Fletcher.
The Argentinian left-back wasn’t even looking at the ball when it struck his elbow and, incredibly, the visitors were awarded a spot-kick.
Ange Postecoglou merely shook his head in disbelief as he stood on the touchline. In short, it was a ridiculous decision and once again the Hoops were on the receiving end of a nonsensical judgement.
CONCENTRATION…Ange Postecoglou watches the action from the touchline.
Remember, this incomprehensible instruction was delivered by the whistler who missed an obvious handball by Michael Smith in Edinburgh.
Fletcher flashed the penalty-kick behind Joe Hart for an unlikely leveller. Bewildered Bernabei was also booked for his troubles.
In the 18th minute, Giorgos Giakoumakis had a header from a Jota left-wing cross smartly saved by the diving Mark Birighitti.
Moments later, there was a VAR-interrupted look as a high and dangerous challenge on the Greek striker by Craig Sibbald.
Giakoumakis was left writhing in pain as the referee, remarkably, waved play on. Walsh and Co reviewed the wayward studs-up assault and decided no action should be taken.
No-one at Celtic Park was unduly surprised.
In the 34th minute, Haksabanovic scored the second with a sweet right-foot strike following a delightful ball in from Matt O’Riley that was nodded down to the winger by Giakoumakis.
The £1.7million bargain buy from Rubin Kazan didn’t hesitate as he came in from the left to catch the shot perfectly and zip in a low shot.
The keeper dived swiftly to get a hand to the ball, but he couldn’t prevent it from rolling past him, striking the left-hand upright and ricocheting into the net.
ON THE BALL, BUT OUT OF LUCK…David Turnbull found no way through.
In first-half stoppage-time, David Turnbull saw a netbound drive diverted for a corner-kick by Ryan Edwards as the champions searched for a third goal.
Three minutes after the turnaround, with Greg Taylor on for Bernabei, Giakoumakis, having a frustrating afternoon, headed a right-wing cross from Ralston off target from a good position smack in front of goal.
Haksabanonovic then set up O’Riley, but his 12-yard effort lacked oomph and was an easy save for the United keeper.
Giakoumakis had a turn and shot from the edge of the box which was followed by a cross from Hatate. Unfortunately, on both occasions, the elevation was well out.
In the 55th minute, Turnbull was denied with a header from a Jota cross that was smothered right on the line by Birighitti with some help from a defender.
An eight-yard flick from Giakoumakis was straight at the grateful netminder before Turnbull watched a curling shot carry just past the right-hand post.
UNITED WE STAND…Kyogo Furuhashi netted a hat-trick against Dundee United at Tannadice and put them to the sword again today.
It was an onslaught, but the hosts could not convert that superiority into goals and O’Riley fluffed a great chance when he fired a shot into the gloves of the keeper after being set up by Jota.
In the 64th minute, the expected changes were made when Liel Abada and Kyogo Furuhashi came on for Haksabanovic and Giakoumakis.
Jota went down on the edge of the box after the attentions of Liam Smith, but ref Dickinson was not interested.
However, what was monotonous and annoying was the series of free-kicks awarded to United as soon as one of their players went to ground. You could see the visitors taking strength from this puzzling sequence.
Glenn Middleton’s first act as a substitute was to hit the deck and win a free-kick. Baffling. And frustrating.
Kyogo then sent a 12-yard header wide with the keeper scrambling after a clever ball into the box from Abada.
In the 76th minute, James Forrest was introduced to the action as a replacement for the hard-working Jota.
Three minutes later, the Hoops survived a real scare when United took a quick free-kick – surprise, surprise – that sent Middleton racing clear completely unmarked on the right.
He rattled in an effort with Hart helpless, but Greg Taylor, celebrating his 25th birthday, materialised to chest the ball off the goal-line for a corner-kick.
ON A WING AND A SLAYER…Liel Abada who claimed the killer fourth goal.
And they lived dangerously when the cross came in with Edwards allowed to get in a header that struck the outside of Hart’s right-hand post before being eventually cleared.
It must be said that the champions did not look comfortable at this stage as the minutes ticked down.
They weren’t helped by the intervention of the frame of the goal when Forrest sent a diving header past Birighitti, but his effort smacked off the woodwork and was booted to safety.
In the 87th minute, the ball ended behind Hart for a shock equaliser when an angled cross from Dylan Levitt was missed by Tony Watt and the keeper as it floated into the net.
It was a dreadful goal to concede, but seemed appropriate on a day when Celtic failed for long periods to put their stamp on the game.
There was a dramatic finish, though, when O’Riley crossed in a corner from the right, Ralston helped it on and penalty-box predator Kyogo swooped to send a flashing header into the net.
Two minutes later, O’Riley swept a pass to the rampaging Abada who raced into the box and remained calm to loft the ball over the outrushing netminder.
VAR had a look at the goal, but even the new technology could not rob the Hoops of a fourth goal.
The champions are seven points ahead, but they made this more of a struggle than they should have allowed to develop.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Jenz, Bernabei (sub: Taylor 46); O’Riley, Turnbull (sub: Maeda 88), Hatate; Haksabanovic (sub: Abada 64), Giakoumakis (sub: Kyogo 64), Jota (sub: Forrest 76).