Dunfermline have no answer to Thompson

Dunfermline Athletic 1 Celtic 4
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The Independent Football

Alan Thompson displayed his credentials for a role in England's Euro 2004 campaign at East End Park last night when he gave yet another left-wing virtuoso performance of the type that Sven Goran Eriksson is crying out for.

The Celtic player's talented left boot created three goals for the Scottish Premier League leaders and then sealed the success by scoring one himself from a free-kick as Martin O'Neill's side powered to their 22nd successive victory.

That keeps them 11 points ahead of Rangers, another of Thompson's recent victims. A chance in the friendly with Portugal next week surely beckons.

Despite Dunfermline's off-the-pitch problems, they went into this encounter nursing some hope. They had taken points from Celtic on the opening day here in August, the only team to do so, and had beaten Rangers at East End Park in December.

The home side almost went ahead after just four minutes when Robert Douglas was caught flat-footed on the artificial surface as he came out to meet Darren Young's header. That allowed Noel Hunt to nip in between the goalkeeper and his defence and flight a delicate header that bounced just wide of the post.

However, it was a warning that was not heeded. Hunt is a penalty box predator, as he proved in the 20th minute when he put Dunfermline ahead. The Irish striker eluded Didier Agathe at the back post to meet Barry Nicholson's cross and send a firm downward header past Douglas.

Celtic, though, are in simply irresistible form. They responded with a two-goal burst before the home side celebrations had died down. Thompson picked out Henrik Larsson for the equaliser with a fine corner in the 23rd minute, allowing the Swede to turn and glance his header into the roof of the net. Just two minutes later, Celtic were in front.

Again Thompson was the provider, this time from a free kick on the same right flank. His delivery was perfect to meet the run of Stanislav Varga, whose firm header flew past goalkeeper Derek Stillie.

That lead was stretched in the 43rd minute as Larsson scored again. Another Thompson corner and this time the Swede eluded Andrius Skerla and bulleted another header past Stillie for his 23rd of the season.

Celtic, though, were not prepared to settle at three. They scored again in the 68th minute, though there was a slice of luck attatched to Thompson's free kick - after Scott Thomson had fouled Stilian Petrov - which hit the top of the wall and looped beyond Stillie.

Dunfermline, however, did not throw in the towel. They almost reduced the deficit in the 80th minute when Daren Young's cross picked out Gary Dempsey, whose lay-off fell to Steve Crawford but his powerful header was beaten away by Douglas.

Dunfermline Athletic (4-4-2): Stillie; Skerla, Wilson, Tod, Thomson (Mehmet 80); Shields, Nicholson, Darren Young, Derek Young (Dempsey 68); Crawford, Hunt. Substitutes not used: Ruitenbeek (gk), Byrne, Labonte.

Celtic (4-4-2): Douglas; Agathe, Kennedy (Valgaeron, 30), Varga, McNamara; Petrov, Lennon (Lambert 72), Pearson (Maloney 73), Thompson; Larsson, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Beattie.

Referee: J Underhill.