Sutton's debut strike buoys Celtic's optimism

O'Neill's £6m man overcomes lack of fitness to form promising strike partnership with Larsson
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The Independent Online

Chris Sutton wasted little time in setting about repaying his £6m transfer fee at Celtic as he scored his new side's winning goal against Dundee United to give both himself and his manager, Martin O'Neill, a dream start at their new club.

Chris Sutton wasted little time in setting about repaying his £6m transfer fee at Celtic as he scored his new side's winning goal against Dundee United to give both himself and his manager, Martin O'Neill, a dream start at their new club.

The former Chelsea striker was O'Neill's first recruit at Parkhead after signing him earlier this month. Considering that he had been carrying an ankle injury all summer and had only begun training on Friday, the man whom Gianluca Vialli was prepared to sell for a £4m loss can feel entirely satisfied with his first day's work for his new employers.

Even so, it was a gamble by O'Neill to give a less than match-fit Sutton his Celtic debut alongside the £3.8m Belgian defender Joos Valgaeren.

In truth it was Henrik Larsson, starting his first competitive game for the club since breaking his leg in a Uefa Cup tie in Lyon last October, who looked more the part in the opening stages and the Swedish international announced his return with a well-taken opener.

Larsson struck in the 36th minute after Sutton's run had been halted by the Dundee United defender Jason de Vos. The Swede curled a wonderful left-footed shot into the net from 18 metres.

United equalised in the 48th minute when Neil Heaney's free-kick was headed home by the teenager David McCracken from close range, but it was Sutton whose contribution proved decisive in the 66th minute.

The Dundee United goalkeeper, Alan Combe, superbly beat out a shot from Jackie McNamara, but Stéphane Mahé whipped the ball back towards the goal and Sutton flicked it in from two metres.

"I am new to this club," Sutton said afterwards, "but I know the expectations are very high and the supporters have been starved of success. The main thing for us this season is to win the league and put Rangers in their place."

O'Neill was fulsome in his praise for Sutton. "At Chelsea his confidence started to slip away and the longer you go without scoring, the harder it becomes," the Celtic manager said. "I would have been pleased with him even if he hadn't scored because his effort was outstanding. But all strikers like to find the net and that goal will not do him any harm."

O'Neill also lavished praise on Larsson. "Henrik is a top quality player, there is no doubt about it," he said. "He has a great touch, a great awareness and is so unselfish."

Goals: Larsson 37 (0-1); McCracken 49 (1-1); Sutton 66 (1-2).

Dundee United: Combe; McCracken, De Vos, Aljofree, Heaney (Venetis, 71), Hannah, Buchan, Easton (McConalogue, 84), Paterson, Mathie (Hamilton 78), Thompson. Substitutes Not Used: Onstad, McQuillan.

Celtic: Gould; Stubbs, Valgaeren, Boyd, Mahe, McNamara, Lambert, Berkovic (Johnson, 64), Petrov, Larsson, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Kerr, Petta, Tebily, Burchill.

Referee: H Dallas.

Booked: Dundee United Heaney, Hannah, Thompson, Buchan. Celtic Valgaeren.

Man of the match: Larsson.

Attendance: 11,761.

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