Celtic 3 Inverness CT 0: Vennegoor sends Sir Alex clear message

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The Independent Online

The man with the longest name in European football polished up his act for the Battle of Britain. Manchester United do not need any warning about Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, given his goal at Old Trafford in the previous Champions' League meeting, but they got one anyway. The towering Dutch striker forced an own goal and fired in a sublime effort to kill off Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Jiri Jarosik completed the success for the champions who have now assembled a sequence of 11 consecutive SPL wins and are unbeaten here in a year.

If Celtic thought Inverness would have been weakened by the absence of their Scotland B goalkeeper, Michael Brown, who was sent off last week at Hibernian, they were wrong. Brown's deputy, Michael Fraser, has had only a handful of games in the last three years because of Brown's form but he shone in the first half as the visitors underlined their growing reputation. Charlie Christie's side won at Rangers four weeks earlier and they displayed genuine confidence after Fraser produced a wonderful save to deny Maciej Zurawski's shot after four minutes and then denied the Polish striker's header six minutes later.

However, Inverness were not content to sit and absorb pressure. They dished it out. Grant Munro was denied by Artur Boruc's parry after the Celtic goalkeeper missed Barry Wilson's corner.

Thomas Gravesen almost broke the deadlock with a glancing header from one of Shunsuke Nakamura's many inswinging corners in the 25th minute. Moments later, another delivery from the Japanese midfielder was met by the head of Stephen McManus. Fraser leapt to paw it away and Vennegoor of Hesselink looked to have bundled the ball over the line in a scramble but Richard Hastings hooked it clear.

Celtic finally scored two minutes before the interval. Lee Naylor's accurate cross picked out Zurawski at the back post who outjumped Hastings and his header across goal was stabbed past Fraser by Vennegoor of Hesselink via Darren Dods. That goal gave Celtic breathing space in the second half as they showed greater fluency and tempo in their passing and Neil Lennon and Gravesen both came close from the edge of the box.

Vennegoor of Hesselink killed Caledonian Thistle's resistance in the 72nd minute. Paul Telfer's quick thinking allowed him to gather Nakamura's return from his own throw-in and deliver a flat cross that was met by Vennegoor's right boot and the Dutchman swept a right-foot finish past Fraser from 14 yards.

Shaun Maloney almost added to the lead when he curled a free-kick just wide of the top corner but the little midfielder set up Jarosik for a third goal five minutes from the end as his outswinging effort picked out the substitute who glanced a looping header over Fraser. And that allowed the thoughts of 56,000 Celtic supporters to turn to Manchester United.

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