Celtic were asked to honour the memory of Tommy Burns at Tannadice last night and they did so, clinching their third successive league title, if not with a flourish, then with a hard-fought but much-cherished victory. The green thousands who had made their way to Dundee celebrated as if a siege had been lifted and, emotionally, they clearly felt that way. This has been one long week and Celtic knew too well that this was a night that might also have belonged to Rangers.
For that reason anxiety and frustration were audible at the hour mark as a combative Dundee United pushed on. That league trophy, sat in a helicopter stationed midway between Aberdeen and Dundee, could not move. But then at eight minutes past nine came news of Aberdeen's opener against Rangers and then here 10 minutes later Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed in a winner. It was a feat Burns had managed for Celtic at Tannadice to seize a title back in 1981.
As Aberdeen's second received a delirious reception, the helicopter came into view and Celtic fans could believe that they were once again champions.
But even without Rangers' defeat the Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, heavily criticised at times this season, would have won three championships in a row, something last achieved at Celtic by Jock Stein. They finished with seven straight wins.
Strachan beamed as he jigged along to "Mack the Knife", Burns' favourite song, but when he spoke to the press it was to issue a brief statement: "It's been an incredible night to end an incredible season. I'd like to thank the players for their belief. It has been one of the most memorable seasons of my life, I've thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to be with people who have supported and believed in us."
That was a dig. It was a night for it. To the Dundee United manager Craig Levein's credit this was tough. United had nothing to play for and had not won for six matches but they could have beaten Celtic.
After an initially bright 20 minutes from the visitors Celtic faded. Shunsuke Nakamura personified this. When he released Aiden McGeady in the 15th minute the winger was 12 yards out, but Lukasz Zaluska made a brilliant reflex save to touch the ball over.
Two minutes later Zaluska did it again, this time denying Barry Robson on his return to the club that sold him in January. Nakamura was again the supplier.
But on came the hosts. Danny Swanson and Mark de Vries had chances before half-time – De Vries' miss was poor – and as the hour approached De Vries rippled the side netting and Artur Boruc then tipped over Swanson's volley.
Celtic were sweating, reliant on their "Holy Goalie". The fans were restless. But then came the word from Aberdeen and the word was good.
Dundee United (4-4-2): Zaluska; Dillon, Dods, Kenneth, Grainger; Flood, Kerr (Robb, 80) Gomis, Swanson (Robertson, 79); De Vries (Daly, 80), Hunt. Substitutes not used: Camara, Wilkie, O'Brien,Smith.
Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor (Wilson, 75); Nakamura (S Brown, 61), Hartley, Robson, McGeady; McDonald, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Samaras, 81). Substitutes not used: M Brown, Donati, Sheridan, O'Dea.
Referee: S Dougal.Reuse content