Thompson makes parting sweet sorrow for O'Neill

Scottish Cup final: Celtic manager signs off his five-year reign with a trophy
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The Independent Football

Celtic 1 Dundee United 0

Celtic 1 Dundee United 0

Celtic: Thompson 11



Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 50,635

Celtic gave Martin O'Neill the send-off they wanted. They won a piece of silverware that the manager has come to know well during his five years in Glasgow and if the shine was taken off the achievement by a subdued performance against Dundee United, it mattered little.

The man who has masterminded Celtic's renaissance is now off to fight a different battle. His heart seemed elsewhere amid the celebrations that followed yesterday's success. It was doubtless with his sick wife, Geraldine, who loved being part of the two previous Scottish Cup final triumphs. The Celtic manager struggled to show any joy after he climbed the Hampden Park steps to receive the trophy at the behest of his players.

Eventually O'Neill was coaxed into his own personal lap of honour. "It was an emotional occasion," admitted Alan Thompson, whose goal decided the match. It was a last hurrah. Many of O'Neill's ageing side are poised to depart in the summer.

The contrasting moods of the rivals' supporters before kick-off betrayed the week that each had gone through before arriving here. Dundee United celebrated an act of escapology last weekend that allowed them to cheat relegation. Their raucous 17,000 following lit up the stadium with forests of tangerine flags dancing in time to "Love Is In The Air", the 1978 hit that doubles as the Tannadice anthem.

At the other end of the ground, barely a banner was raised. The Celtic supporters' gloom, in response to losing their title last Sunday and then their leader, O'Neill, felt as thick as the miserable conditions that enveloped Hampden. The sight of O'Neill leading his players on to the pitch changed all that. Chants of "Martin O'Neill" rang round this famous stadium.

For O'Neill's counterpart, Gordon Chisholm, this must have been a surreal experience. Two months ago he had been ready to offer his resignation in solidarity with Ian McCall, only to be given temporary charge of the side. Chisholm was rewarded for leading his team to the Cup final and surviving the drop with the manager's job just four days earlier.

Dundee United began in confident fashion and were the side for the opening 10 minutes until Celtic made the breakthrough. Craig Bellamy drew a soft foul from Alan Archibald just outside the box and Thompson deceived everyone by eschewing a cross and instead whipped a low ball to the near post - where Bobo Baldé stepped over the shot to bemuse Garry Kenneth - and found the far corner of the net.

Poor Dundee United. Their gameplan had gone out of the window. However, they summoned up a threat after 18 minutes when Jason Scotland's pace opened up Celtic before planting a tempting cross between the Celtic goalkeeper, Robert Douglas, and Steve Crawford. The striker's lunge just failed to finish off the move.

An identical scenario at the other end almost handed Celtic another goal but Mark Kerr's vigilance was rewarded when he slid in to cut out Chris Sutton's pass that was heading for John Hartson. Bellamy - contained well for the most part by Paul Ritchie - then threatened with a shot that Tony Bullock parried.

To their credit, Dundee United kept trying to play football and passed the ball more crisply than the holders. Celtic could hardly feel secure with their lead, given that this was the advantage that they squandered to throw away the League title last Sunday at Motherwell. Derek McInnes blocked a net-bound Bellamy volley before Stanislav Varga headed over as Celtic placed United under more intense scrutiny. Bellamy's speed cut a swathe through Dundee United's defence on two occasions early in the second half, with Archibald snuffing out both threats as he blocked shots from Hartson and Sutton.

A more patient interrogation created another chance for Hartson but the striker's header sailed over the bar, summing up the Welshman's wretched end to the season. Archibald came close to snatching an equaliser just before the hour but failed to keep his volley down from McInnes's knockdown.

Chisholm's side then subjected Celtic to some fierce pressure, with Petrov denying Barry Robson's back post header. That left United vulnerable to a counter-attack, which Bellamy provided in the 65th minute before stumbling in the box. Thompson arrived first but his shot and follow-up were kept out by Bullock.

Celtic had a chance to soothe their nerves when Bellamy's surge was halted by Kenneth's slide tackle as the striker entered the box. It was a penalty, but Sutton missed in outrageous fashion as his foot slipped, copying David Beckham's celebrated miss against Portugal last year, and the ball flew over the bar.

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