Travel may broaden the mind but it tires the legs, and Gordon Strachan will be glad that he persuaded Japan to give Shunsuke Nakamura a week off. Instead of making a 20,000-mile round trip to Tokyo for an Asian Cup tie, Nakamura enjoyed some rest in Glasgow, and bene-fited yesterday with a hat-trick that buried Dundee United.
The success at Tannadice keeps Celtic top of the Scottish Premier League and allows them to contemplate Tuesday's Champions' League encounter with Benfica at Parkhead in an optimistic fame of mind. With Europe ahead, Strachan rested the Scotland striker Kenny Miller, but his absence was not missed as Nakamura found the net in a ruthless 14-minute spell either side of half-time.
"We were brave at 1-0 down in our passing and got the reward once the goals flew in," said Strachan. "In the second half, we were untouchable. Nakamura is a top player and he showed that with great goals, yet the first half-hour was his least productive spell since coming here."
The Terrors will feel harshly dealt with by the scoreline. In the first period, the hosts controlled the contest after Noel Hunt gave them a fifth-minute lead and Celtic were shorn of fluency. That imperfection was underlined by Artur Boruc when Hunt scored; the keeper allowed the striker's right-foot volley from Collin Samuel's knockdown to drift between his hands. United cared little as they tried to earn their first home League win since March, and if Barry Robson had converted Samuel's 18th-minute cross, the Tannadice side might have produced an upset.
However, Robson scuffed his shot from just six yards and the champions began to plot an escape. Celtic's response was gradual, with a series of attacks allowing Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Jiri Jarosik to fashion chances. However, there was little sign of genuine threat until Nakamura restored parity a minute before the interval. Gary Caldwell delivered a high free-kick into the box for Vennegoor of Hesselink to contest. The Dutchman's flick was headed on by Jarosik and Nakamura stabbed past Derek Stillie.
Hunger and movement flowed through everything that Celtic did after the break. Nakamura gave the champions the lead in the 48th minute, as Vennegoor of Hesselink headed on Lee Naylor's throw-in, Jarosik missed with an overhead attempt but Nakamura profited by rifling in a left-foot finish. Four minutes later, Vennegoor of Hesselink killed the contest. A sublime exchange between Nakamura and Shaun Maloney allowed the latter to thread a pass into Vennegoor of Hesselink's run. The Dutchman stumbled on his way into the box but still guided an angled shot past Stillie.
Nakamura sealed the rout in the 58th minute. Again Maloney was the architect with clever play before setting up Jarosik, who unselfishly fed Nakamura, and the Japanese picked out a composed, left-foot finish.