Sutton finds rhythm but Juninho fails to hit stride

Celtic 1 - Dundee United 0
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The Independent Online

An intermittently fluent Celtic ensured leadership of the Scottish Premier League for another week when they edged their way to victory yesterday and stretched their lead over Rangers, who play Kilmarnock today, to four points. It was fitting that the manager's favourite, Chris Sutton, contributed the decisive moment.

An intermittently fluent Celtic ensured leadership of the Scottish Premier League for another week when they edged their way to victory yesterday and stretched their lead over Rangers, who play Kilmarnock today, to four points. It was fitting that the manager's favourite, Chris Sutton, contributed the decisive moment.

In contrast, the elfin Juninho could not deliver the goal he craved to sweep away the doubts that have surrounded him since he moved from Middlesbrough, only to find himself a permanent place on the Parkhead bench.

The Brazilian made a cameo substitute appearance but looks a shadow of his former self, although Martin O'Neill was content. "Juninho showed wonderful touches when he came on," said the Celtic manager, "but it was a day when we struggled to find that second goal."

Celtic, possibly benefiting from their first free midweek in months, played with a tempo and zest that have been absent recently.

Stilian Petrov underlined that with a fearsome shot after just five minutes that was beaten out by goalkeeper Tony Bullock. Seven minutes later, Celtic's energetic midfielder was denied by Mark Wilson who conjured up a goal-line clearance after Petrov had stabbed his shot beyond Bullock.

Aiden McGeady then contributed a raking shot that went narrowly wide before Alan Thompson's free-kick pierced the Dundee United wall and ricocheted wide for the corner that would give Celtic their breakthrough in the 18th minute.

Thompson produced on his trademark near-post deliveries for Sutton to attack the ball and guide it into the roof of the net with a glancing header for a carbon copy of their goal at Dunfermline six days earlier.

Celtic's lead could have been swiftly enhanced when a corner from McGeady picked out the towering Bobo Balde, whose header was acrobatically pushed over the bar by Bullock.

The goalkeeper eclipsed that with a double save on the half-hour, blocking John Hartson's effort with his legs and then recovering to punch the ball away as Petrov was poised to finish off the rebound with a header.

Thompson departed before the interval, succumbing to an injury which gave Juninho a chance to seize on a rare appearance.

However, another departure for Celtic, just a few minutes into the second half, stripped them of their rhythm. Joos Valgaren was taken off on a stretcher after a collision with Sutton and the subsequent shuffle saw Sutton drop into midfield with Juninho partnering Hartson.

The little Brazilian seemed to be trying too hard to conjure up a moment to justify his hype, although one curling shot just after the hour came very close.

Dundee United enjoyed a tremendous spell of possession but few chances. The only time Magnus Hedman was required to intervene was in denying Mark Kerr.

Sutton came closer than anyone to adding to his goal when he took Jackie McNamara's deep pass on the run with deft chest control but his lob over Bullock narrowly missed the target.

Hartson matched Sutton's skill but his shot met the same fate, and then Juninho danced past a series of tackles but his drive was pushed wide by Bullock, summing up Juninho's frustration at Parkhead.

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