Celtic stroll to Cup victory

 

A Scottish League Cup final that had been considered potentially the most delicately-balanced in years turned out to be a catchweight contest, with Celtic the heavyweights against the bantams of Dundee United. The Parkhead side's 4-0 league victory over yesterday's opponents just eight days earlier had been perceived as an irrelevance. It turned out to be the most reliable form guide of all, with Andreas Thom, ten minutes from the end, squandering a golden chance to repeat the scoreline.

Celtic had not won this trophy for 15 years, but the famine was ended when Marc Rieper and Henrik Larsson scored the first two goals within two minutes of each other before the interval.

Craig Burley's headed third was a proper reward for a player who has had a huge influence on the Parkhead side since his purchase from Chelsea in the summer. Not even the most wildly optimistic Celtic supporter could have fantasised that burst of scoring midway through the first half that that brought their team a plump cushion on which to relax.

Certainly, the Glasgow side had already established an unmissable superiority during the opening 20 minutes, clearly able to handle the occasion much more readily than opponents who seemed to be uncharacteristically unsettled by anxiety.

But Celtic had only mildly bothered Dykstra, and the two goals, from Rieper after 21 minutes and Larsson two minutes later, had seemed improbable. The slipshod passing of the Dundee side had already given Celtic possession in threatening areas, although Dykstra had to deal only with a straight shot from Wieghorst and a run from Larsson - the goalkeeper diving at the Swede's feet to smother the ball as he ran into the box - before the damage was sustained.

Wieghorst was at the heart of the opener, teasing the entire United defence towards him as he carried the ball in from the right and chipping perfectly to Rieper. The big defender, without a challenge, bulleted his header to the left of Dykstra from only six yards. United paid the severest penalty for their nervous passing when Larsson scored the second.

Mark Perry, under no pressure, carelessly rolled the ball straight to Larsson, who immediately set off through the middle towards goal. His right-foot shot from 20 yards struck the outstretched foot of the lunging Maurice Malpas, the ball shot high into the air, looped over Dykstra and landed in the net.

Those goals holed United below the water line, keeping them more pre-occupied with survival from then on than with fighting back. Indeed, it was their general failure to make an impact on the Celtic defence that was most notable about their performance.

By the time Celtic scored their third, their opponents could reflect only on the long-range shooting of Kjell Olofsson as any kind of threat to Jonathan Gould. These attempts were powerfully struck and, occasionally, only marginally wide, but they were no substitute for dismantling a defence with the telling pass.

Olofsson, in fact, had sent another 30-yard free kick narrowly wide of Gould's right-hand post before Celtic, in the 59th minute, gave another demonstration of safe-cracking, rather than safe blowing. Wieghorst, the most impressive player on the field, began the move with another intelligent run through the middle before supplying Larsson on the right.

The forward waited until Regi Blinker arrived before cutting the ball back. Blinker, denied the early shot, carried the ball wide to the left and clipped it back across goal for Craig Burley to send a free header over the line from six yards.

Celtic: Gould, Boyd, Mahe, McNamara (Annoni 90), Rieper, Stubbs, Larsson, Burley, Thom (Donnelly 80), Wieghorst, Blinker (Lambert 88). Goals: Rieper 21, Larsson 24, Burley 59.

Dundee United: Dykstra, Skoldmark (McSwegan 57), Malpas, Pressley, Perry, Pedersen, Olofsson, Zetterlund, Winters, Easton, Bowman. Subs Not Used: Dolan, Andersson. Booked: Easton, McSwegan.

Referee: J McCluskey (Stewarton).