Celtic 3 Gretna 0: Brown sets up Celtic for Old Firm battle

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Celtic finished 2007 as they began it, out in front. The champions ensured they would remain two points ahead of Rangers in the SPL before Wednesday's key Old Firm derby. Celtic Park will be a far more raucous place then than it was here, but clinical finishing from Scott McDonald, Scott Brown and Aiden McGeady overcame the sedate atmosphere in the east end of Glasgow.

Gretna's status at the foot of the SPL belied the hard work put in by David Irons, who, with modest resources, has created a stubborn side that went into this contest unbeaten in the previous three games, and in the knowledge that it took Celtic a last-minute goal from McDonald to defeat them at Fir Park in October. Indeed, Ryan McGuffie might have put Gretna in front after 15 minutes had it not been for the alert reaction of Artur Boruc, the Celtic goalkeeper, back after knee surgery.

In Fabian Yantorno, Gretna also possess a fine talent and the Uruguayan's skill created a chance in the 34th minute when his shot was parried by Boruc, only for Allan Jenkins to head the rebound over.

That, however, inspired Celtic to the breakthrough. Boruc's long kick out was flicked on by Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, to Aiden McGeady, who cleverly threaded a pass into McDonald's run and the striker kept his composure to steer his right-foot finish in off the post from 16 yards.

Yet Gretna might have restored parity before the interval as Yantorno drew another impressive save from Boruc.

The demand from the Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, for a more urgent tempo was visibly met in the second half. It took just four minutes for Brown to deliver, exchanging passes with Massimo Donati and then firing a 20-yard shot past the goalkeeper, Tony Caig.

Gary Caldwell then acrobatically cleared off the line when Boruc spilled Evan Horwood's cross, but after that Celtic controlled the contest. They ought to have scored more but the crossbar denied substitute Paul Hartley's firm header and then McDonald found the post conspiring against him after a fine run and angled finish.

McGeady, who will miss the Old Firm encounter because of suspension, then tormented Gretna and finally got the goal his play deserved when he cut in from the left wing and clubbed a venomous finish into the net from the edge of the box.