Football: Blinker has Celtic vision

Celtic 2 Dundee United 0
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The Independent Online
IN A weekend of outstanding sporting promise, few events over the last couple of days have been as one-sided and clear cut as Celtic's progress to the Tennent's Scottish Cup final. Few will have been less entertaining.

Dr Jozef Venglos in his first season in charge has allowed the talent of the Scottish champions to flourish in a way that was rarely evident under the stricter regime of Wim Jansen. When those players add bite to their performance, as they did at Ibrox, they are irresistible.

This whole encounter was wrapped up in 45 minutes and, if Celtic as a whole were irresistible, Regi Blinker was the epitome of their best qualities.

The former Sheffield Wednesday player, who has been criticised by the supporters for the lack of a telling contribution, produced his best 90 minutes in a Celtic jersey. He showed skill and vision on the ball and a capacity to tackle back when off it and was at the heart of every good Celtic move especially in the first half.Allowed the freedom to come inside from his former beat on the wing, Blinker has flourished at the right time as the considerable playmaking skills of Lubomir Moravcik are confined to the physio's couch.

Blinker-led Celtic channelled their resources towards the United goal with a degree of menace, creating chances for Craig Burley, Paul Lambert and Mark Viduka before Blinker struck the first goal. He latched on to a loose ball at a corner and scored with a firmly hit, angled drive.

Within seconds, Viduka had a goal disallowed for offside, but the Australian added the second five minutes before the break. Played in behind the United defence, his final shot deflected from a defender over the diving Sieb Dykstra.

By then the tie was over asCeltic's sprightly performance was in direct contrast to a dour and defensive approach by United that smacked of pessimism, despite the fact that they have made life difficult for Celtic in the league.

Their approach was all the more abysmal given that this was a one-off cup tie that carried the promise of an historic appearance in the first final to be played at the rebuilt Hampden Park.

"I couldn't believe how my team couldn't pass the ball to each other in the first half," said Paul Sturrock, their manager. "We made chances in the second half which makes me ask why it wasn't there in the first."

Many felt this was a real chance for United as Celtic have a makeshift side in the absence of Vidar Riseth and Johan Mjallby from the heart of their defence.

However the reorganised Celtic defence was rarely troubled in their absence, with only Jason De Vos hitting the post and Billy Dodds coming close with a header at a corner deflected over.

Burley later admitted he and his team-mates were motivated by the thought of a return to the national stadium.

"It will be a big, big final for us back at Hampden and I feel it is nice to get away from the club grounds and to a change of scenery," he said. "It is like going to Wembley for us, and it is good for the players to have a big day out."

Venglos believes they have the quality to compete with any club at the moment. He said: "There are a number of important matches to play before the final. But I think we are now able to compete with anybody and we shall try to do that."

Goals: Blinker (29) 1-0; Viduka (40) 2-0.

Celtic (3-5-2); Gould; Annoni, Boyd, Mahe (Wieghorst, 53); McNamara, Burley, Lambert, Blinker, McKinlay; Larsson, Viduka (Donnelly, h-t). Substitute not used: Kerr.

Dundee United (4-2-3-1); Dykstra; Skoldmark, De Vos, Jonsson, Malpas; Murray, Easton. Miller, Dodds, Olofsson; Mathie (Thompson, 69). Substitutes not used: Patterson, Duffy.

Referee: W Young (Clarkston). Bookings: Dundee United: Dodds, Jonsson, Malpas.

Man of the match: Blinker.

Attendance; 43,491.