There were echoes of the 1988 cup final between these clubs when late goals from Frank McAvennie secured victory for Celtic. On this occasion, Celtic's foreign strike-force of Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Andreas Thom supplied the coup de grace. Tommy Burns, the Celtic manager, said: "That was the perfect example of what foreign players can do for your game. Two or three times this season that has happened because they are quality players."
Burns is also hopeful that he will have a better indication today as to his chances of obtaining the services of Jorge Cadete, the Portuguese striker.
Despite the late finish, Celtic should have had this tie beyond the reach of United long before half-time. Displaying the brand of sparkling football that has captured the imagination this season, they created several clear- cut chances, only to be thwarted by good saves from Ally Maxwell, the former Rangers goalkeeper.
In the 29th minute, they fell victim to the classic sucker punch as United took the lead on a rare incursion into the Celtic half of the field. The pace of Robbie Winters carried him into space beyond the Celtic defence and his pass to Craig Brewster found his fellow striker in space. Brewster, who scored the winning goal for United in the final two years ago, rounded Marshall and was brought crashing to the ground.
Owen Coyle saw the resultant penalty saved by the goalkeeper, but Gary McSwegan was first to the rebound, knocking the ball back to Coyle who scored with a powerful shot.
The second half gave Burns an indication of how far his side has still to go as he attempts to compete at the highest level. Burns has rightly been praised for turning around the club in producing a style comparable with the Celtic teams of old, but the missing ingredient is a wide player.
It appeared Celtic were running out of ideas until Jackie McNamara fired in a free-kick from the right which was perfectly weighted for Van Hooijdonk to send a powerful header past Maxwell. Seconds later, amid bedlam in the stadium, Thom made strides into United's penalty area and curled a delightful shot into the net.
Goals: Coyle (29) 0-1; Van Hooijdonk (88) 1-1; Thom (89) 2-1.
Celtic (4-4-2): Marshall; McNamara, Hughes, O'Neil (O'Donnell, 72), McKinlay; Donnelly, Grant, McStay, McLaughlin; Van Hooijdonk, Thom. Substitutes not used: Mackay, Bonner (gk).
Dundee United (4-4-2) : Maxwell; Perry, Pressley, Welsh, Malpas; Winters, Bowman, Johnson, Coyle; McSwegan (McLaren, 72), Brewster (McKinnon, 86). Substitute not used: Shannon.
Referee: A Waddell (Edinburgh).
Bookings: Celtic: Hughes. Dundee United: Coyle, McSwegan.
Man of the match: Maxwell. Attendance: 32,750.Reuse content