Bellamy trio puts Celtic top

Dundee United 2 - Celtic 3
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The Independent Football

Craig Bellamy inscribed a hat-trick on a remarkable contest at Tannadice yesterday that took Celtic back to the top of the Scottish Premier League.

Craig Bellamy inscribed a hat-trick on a remarkable contest at Tannadice yesterday that took Celtic back to the top of the Scottish Premier League.

The champions have clawed back the ground they lost a month ago to Rangers, though they had to survive intense pressure from the bottom club, who twice wiped out Celtic's lead. But the on-loan Wales international striker showed why Newcastle United want £6m to make the deal permanent.

"I did not come here for a free ride," Bellamy said afterwards. "I wanted to make my mark. This was a big three points for us. I want my next club to be a big one and hopefully a deal can be done with Celtic."

It took Bellamy just five minutes to make his impact. Jackie McNamara created the opening with a surging run before supplying Bellamy, wide on the right, who steadied himself and measured a venomous angled shot, from 20 yards past the goalkeeper Tony Bullock, that found the roof of the net.

Poor Dundee United were almost over-run in a frenetic opening. Bellamy profited from a fine pass down the left touchline by Alan Thompson, eluding Paul Ritchie and advancing into the box. However, this time, Bellamy raked his shot into the side-netting.

Bullock then saved a diving header from John Hartson but gradually Dundee United grabbed a foothold in the contest. A flowing 15-pass move saw Barry Robson cross for Stuart Duff, whose volley narrowly cleared the bar.

However, United then switched to route one to restore parity in the 24th minute. Bullock had just saved a header from Bobo Baldé when he launched an immense kick-out that sailed over the Celtic defence, where Jim McIntyre got in behind Stan Varga to hook the ball past Robert Douglas.

Ten minutes later, United were behind again to a goal of sumptuous quality. Ulrik Laursen spotted Bellamy's early run and threaded a fine pass into the space where the Welshman's pace took him ahead of Gary Kenneth before thrashing a left-foot shot past Bullock in off the far post.

Not surprisingly, the second half could not match up to the first in terms of freedom of expression. Both sides tightened up in defence but when Robson equalised for Dundee United in the 71st minute, it prompted a furious dénouement.

McIntyre made the opening by seizing on a mistake by Neil Lennon and found Robson, who unleashed a fearsome left-foot shot from 20 yards out that flew past Douglas. Celtic went for broke, knowing they could not afford to drop points, but when Bellamy tugged a shot wide from Chris Sutton's layoff, frustration seemed inevitable.

However, Bellamy restored that lead with 10 minutes left. Douglas's kick-out was flicked on by the head of Sutton to find the run of Bellamy, who took the ball on his thigh and steered it past Bullock with his left boot.

The last drop of drama came in stoppage time, when Robson bent a free-kick over the wall that was destined for the net until Douglas threw himself to his right to touch the ball wide with a remarkable save.

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