SUNDERLAND 0 CELTIC 5
CALLUM McGREGOR fired in a hat-trick as Celtic demoralised the side who are favourites to bounce back into the English top flight after last season’s relegation.
The Hoops picked up the Dafabet Cup as Sunderland celebrated – if that’s the word – their 20th anniversary of the Stadium of Light.
But, a lot more important for manager Brendan Rodgers, was the fact his side hammered in five goals with Jonny Hayes and Stuart Armstrong adding to McGregor’s three goals.
Now all eyes are on Trondheim on Wednesday in the Champions League second leg after last week’s goalless draw and the Irishman appears to have a wealth of riches as he plots the way ahead.
Kieran Tierney accepted the honour of captaining the side in the absence of Scott Brown and Mikael Lustig.
Rodgers also took the opportunity of playing Anthony Ralston and Calvin Miller at full-back with the new skipper tucking in beside Kristoffer Ajer in central defence.
The opening goal was a disaster for the home defence and keeper Jason Steele, the new £1million recruit from Blackburn Rovers.
The shotstopper’s clearance rebounded off one of his own defenders and fell perfectly for McGregor who had pressed forward in the initial attack.
The midfielder snapped up the opportunity and slid the ball expertly under Steele to give the Hoops the advantage in the fifth minute.
It took a brilliant save from Dorus de Vries to keep the visitors in the lead only four minutes later.
Aidan McGeady, in a move the Celtic fans have witnessed so many times in the past, produced a bit of step-over trickery on the left wing.
He lofted in a neat ball and James Vaughan met it with his head smack in front of goal six yards out.
It looked a scorer all the way until De Vries stretched full-length to his right to push the ball away from the danger zone. It was a mervellous stop from Craig Gordon’s deputy.
And the six-in-a-row champions celebrated by doubling their advantage in the 14th minute following a typical flowing move that carved open the home rearguard.
The ball was switched from right to left with Hayes and Eboue Kouassi involved before Scott Sinclair dinked a lovely pass in front of McGregor who timed his run into the box to absolute perfection.
Once again, the midfield man kept his composure with only Steele to beat and he swept a low left-foot drive into the corner of the net.
Sunderland got lucky twice in succession in rapid-fire moments. In the 28th minute, Sinclair had a close-range header blocked by a frantic defender and James Forrest then set up Olivier Ntcham on the edge of the box.
The French Under-21 international curled an effort, but Steele threw himself to his left to beat the ball to safety.
A minute later, McGregor, making his mark on proceedings, raced through the defence before thumping a low left-foot 20-yarder past Steele.
Unfortunately, the ball smacked against the left-hand upright and bounced to safety.
Kouassi was enjoying the encounter, too, and was quick to tackle and distribute from his midfield enforcer role.
Hard man Lee Cattermole tried to nail him with a robust tackle, but the Ivorian was back on his feet after brief treatment.
In the 35th minute, De Vries came to the rescue after the referee had awarded the home side a penalty-kick following a clumsy challenge from Ntcham on George Honeyman.
Vaughan took the kick and slammed it low to the Dutchman’s right, but he got down splendidly to push the ball away.
It fell straight to the Black Cats frontman, but once again De Vries displayed a defiant mood with a courageous block.
Within a minute, the Hoops keeper did it again when he spread himself to push away a low effort from Lewis Grabban.
In the 39th minute, Celtic struck a third goal after dominating possession against the Championship outfit.
Ntcham tried his luck once more from outside the box and Steele thwarted the new Bhoy with a flying save to his left.
The ball rebounded to Hayes who showed genuine quality by taking a touch before volleying a right-foot effort beyond the flummoxed custodian.
Nir Bitton, Tom Rogic and Armstrong came on at the interval with Ntcham, Sinclair and Hayes withdrawn.
The Israeli international moved into the centre-back role alongside Ajer with Tierney switching to left-back with Miller moving forward.
Three minutes from the hour mark, McGregor completed his terrific threesome after McGeady, of all people, presented the Parkhead outfit with a penalty-kick after a foul on the rampaging Ralston just inside the box.
The midfielder swiftly took responsibility and swept a low left-foot drive low into the net with Steele going the wrong way as he took off for his right.
Nadir Ciftci and Mark Hill came on for Forrest and Tierney in the 61st minute as Rodgers utillised his squad. Then minutes afterwards, Kundai Benyu and Jamie McCart replaced Miller and Ajer.
Before that double substitution, in the 69th minute, Armstrong got in on the scoring act by claiming the fifth following a well-worked free-kick.
The midfielder, who had taken the captain’s armband from Tierney, was unmarked as the ball dropped at his feet on the left and he clipped a left-foot effort low into the net with nonchalant ease.
Three-goal hero McGregor went off to rapturous applause 15 minutes from time with Liam Henderson taking his place.
Five minutes from the end, Rodgers completed his substitutions when he introduced teenager Jack Aitchison for Kouassi, who had put in an impressive performance.
It was a five-star performance and the Hoops fans must be hoping the team can carry that form onto Norway in midweek.
TEAM: De Vries; Ralston, Ajer (sub: McCart 71), Tierney (sub: Hill 61), Miller (sub: Benyu 71); Kouassi (sub: Aitchison 85), Ntcham (sub: Bitton 46); Hayes (sub: Rogic 46), McGregor (sub: Henderson 75), Forrest (sub: Ciftci 61); Sinclair (sub: Armstrong 46).