Desmond Kane

Smells like team spirit

Desmond Kane

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With the winning, comes the celebration. Gary Hooper's decisive late goal for Celtic in a tumultuous 2-1 success over Dundee United at Tannadice prompted some truly astonishing scenes of merriment on Tayside, a stirring sort of Sunday when Dundee became the city of jute, jam, journalism and jumping around.

Celtic never rejoiced as much when they won the Scottish Premier League at United's home on the final day of the season two years ago, but it was not to everyone's liking. The conduct of an animated Neil Lennon was berated by the opposing manager, but such criticism is nothing new on such feverish, slightly eccentric days out in Scotland.

"It was embarrassing. Celtic thought they had won the league here today," said a grumpy home manager Peter Houston. "The ref has been over talking to Neil Lennon and his backroom staff, and when they score a goal they are 25 yards down the track.

"I'm going to start doing that if you are allowed to do that."

Houston's sourness is as old hat as Lennon's shenanigans. Jose Mourinho almost wound up in the East Stand at Old Trafford after his Porto side ousted Manchester United from the Champions League several years ago.

Lennon was over the top perhaps, but his conduct was perfectly understandable given the bitter pills he was forced to swill down over an afternoon of utter bedlam.

Celtic were denied three possible penalties, one glaring when Scott Severin handled, and one galling as the referee Dougie McDonald awarded it before changing his mind on the advice of a linesman further away from the incident than him.

The Glasgow side enjoyed 58% of possession and blew 23 shots at goal as the match descended into a shelling before Hooper finally snuck the ball into the rigging in the game's death throes.

It is little wonder Lennon never led a conga of Celtic fans up Tannadice Street singing 'Discoland' afterwards.

Conkers, lighters and coins apparently visited the park from what a police spokesman described as a "rowdy" visiting support. Most of it came in the aftermath of McDonald's change of heart. It was the only downside of an otherwise awe-inspiring Sunday for the game in Scotland.

A touch of Vaudeville was well and truly alive in Dundee as Lennon aired his feelings to his opponents, the officials, the fans and anyone else who cared to digest his views, with the usual sweary or two of the inflamed never far from the surface.

For a few moments at the final whistle, it seemed like Martin O'Neill's side was alive and well as Lennon's trusty assistants Johan Mjallby and Alan Thompson rampaged around like it was the noughties.

It was a fine game to behold, even if United were reduced to the role of also-rans in the final 30 minutes. Being top of the league remains an experience to be cherished, no matter how many baubles your club has revelled in.

In life, you do not appreciate what you have got until it is gone. In football, supporters only realise what they are without when its gone. Followers of Celtic have seen plenty drift away these past two years, including two managers in the face of witnessing a Rangers side binge on consistency to collect then defend the SPL trophy.

As an onlooker, one would argue that football needs men like Lennon. There is nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve. It seems to be having the desired effect on his team, who are suddenly remarkably sprightly. Matching Rangers's contribution of eight wins from the outset of the season is praiseworthy, even for a Glasgow side who are expected to win with as much regularity as Barcelona.

It must be said that there has always been a touch of the theatre about Lennon, as much of a validated and vilified character as one is likely to come across in the combustible, often rabid football city of Glasgow.

During their pre-season trip to London for Arsenal's Emirates Cup tournament, the manager and his squad apparently visited London's West End to drink in the musical life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It was a night when the Bhoys visited the Jersey Boys, an illuminating show enjoyed in the past by Elle McPherson rather than Archie, but Lennon will be forever recalled for representing O'Neill and his five seasons.

Celtic's own rendition of 'December, 1963' could be reworked as 'May, 2003' when the club faced Porto in the UEFA Cup final and seemed to drag half of Glasgow over to Seville with them. Oh, what a night, indeed.

There has been much lamenting among the club's supporters since those heady days over the attractiveness of the fare on offer, the fares attached to buying a season book approaching £500 and a lack of willingness among the board to refurbish the squad with enough quality. The last point seems to have been addressed. 

The indications from a riotous day in the City of Discovery on Sunday suggests this Celtic side are slowly, but surely rediscovering their gait.

Celtic's win over United was as convincing as any they managed under O'Neill at Tannadice, even if the 2-1 scoreline suggested a closer contest.

For poignancy, this may end up rivalling Celtic's 2-1 win at Dundee United a decade ago when Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton turned in goals on the opening day of the 2000/01 season.

Celtic have improved significantly from the bamboozling tenure of Tony Mowbray, whose side lost 2-1 at United a year ago before ending up with less spirit than Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. Mowbray departed after only nine months running the club.

Whatever you get with Lennon, he won't leave you short-changed on purpose. Going with four strikers was a bold call, but he had belief in his ideals. There has been a lot of talk about strategy over the past week, but Celtic's 4-2-4 or 4-4-2 with Joe Ledley and Ki Sung-Yueng supporting Anthony Stokes, Georgios Samaras, Shaun Maloney and Hooper worked startlingly well.

Scott Brown's absence probably benefited Ki and Ledley, who had his most dominant outing since joining from Cardiff City. Glenn Loovens, or Glenda as he is known in his weaker moments, and Daniel Majstorovic seemed like the ball-winning central defenders that they will need to be in Scotland's bleak midwinter.

Lennon must be thankful his players can respond to instructions, and excited they can attack so instinctively, but Rangers manager Walter Smith will certainly provide Lennon with the need to think about what he goes for on Sunday. 

They may be out of Europe after a pretty forgettable month of August, but apples will grow again. Whatever the outcome of the latest Old Firm derby that will end with one or two of these towering sides relinquishing their unblemished records, this Celtic team appear to be an improving lot.

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