Celtic 2 Dundee United 1: Edgy Bhoys remain top

Celtic 2 Dundee United 1: Edgy Bhoys remain top as Hooper and Wanyama strike

Celtic went two points clear of Rangers again at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League with a
nervy win over Dundee United at Parkhead.

First-half goals by striker Gary
Hooper and midfielder Victor Wanyama gave the home side a comfortable
interval lead and it looked like they would go onto coast the game.

However, visiting midfielder John
Rankin pulled a goal back five minutes after the break to set up an
uneasy second half for Neil Lennon's side.

Hoop dreams: Gary Hooper (right) celebrates the opening goal

Hoop dreams: Gary Hooper (right) celebrates the opening goal

MATCH FACTS

CELTIC: Forster, Matthews, Rigne, Mulgrew, Izaguirre (Commons 78), Brown, Wanyama, Ledley, Samaras, Stokes (Sung-Yeung 65), Hooper. Unused Subs: Zaluska, Wilson, Cha, McCourt, Keatings.

Goals: Hooper 12, Wanyama 17.

DUNDEE UTD: Pernis, Neilson, Dillon, Kenneth, Dixon (Douglas 64), Flood (Armstrong 46), Robertson, Rankin, Mackay-Steven (Swanson 77), Russell, Daly. Unused Subs Banks, Ryan, Dalla Valle, Dow.

Booked: Dillon, Rankin

Goals: Rankin 50

Referee: Brian Winter

In the end, though, Celtic did
enough to leapfrog the champions who had beaten St Johnstone 2-1 at
McDiarmid Park earlier in the day, while extending their winning run in
the SPL to 11 games.

Hooper and Wanyama were two of five
changes made by Lennon for the visit of the Taysiders. Goalkeeper Fraser
Forster, defenders Adam Matthews and Thomas Rogne also came in, with
Lukasz Zaluska, Kelvin Wilson, Cha Du-ri, Ki Sung-yueng and Paddy
McCourt all dropping to the bench.

For the Tannadice side, defender Robbie Neilson replaced Stuart Armstrong, who started as substitute.

United had not won in the east end
of Glasgow since a 1-0 victory on Boxing Day, 1992 and they had manager
Peter Houston in the stand, serving the first of a two-game ban for
criticising match officials following their recent defeat by Aberdeen.

It was the visitors, though, who had an encouraging start to the game.

Flood warning: Victor Wanyama is felled by Willo Flood

Flood warning: Victor Wanyama is felled by Willo Flood

In the eighth minute Forster had to
make a good save from United defender Garry Kenneth's drive from 12
yards after Gary Mackay-Steven's cross from the left found its way to
the back post.

However, United found themselves two
goals down in the space of five minutes. In the 12th minute Hooper,
subject of two rejected bids so far from Southampton, drove the home
side into the lead after a swift Celtic break all too easily cut open
the United defence following a mistake by Sean Dillon.

The Parkhead striker ran onto an
incisive pass from Anthony Stokes before confidently sending a
right-footed shot past Dusan Pernis from 14 yards.

Five minutes later Wanyama, who
picked up his Clydesdale Bank Premier League young player of the month
award for December, rose highest in the United defence following a short
corner between Georgios Samaras and Emilio Izaguirre to head the
latter's cross past Pernis.

The Tannadice side, with Mackay-Steven looking good, tried to work their way back into the game but it looked a long way back.

United were racking up the corners which hinted at danger but the Celtic defence stood firm.

That's for starters: Hooper fires home the opener

That's for starters: Hooper fires home the opener

The Parkhead men appeared to believe the points were already in the bag as they eased their way towards the break, albeit still well in control.

In the 41st minute a decent move involving Johnny Russell, John Rankin and Mackay-Stevens ended with skipper Jon Daly sending a drive from 25 yards just past Forster's left-hand post.

But moments later Rogne headed Charlie Mulgrew's inswinging corner from the right past the far post, before Pernis made a good save from Stokes' ferocious right-footed drive.

The second half began with Pernis fumbling a Mulgrew free-kick before the visiting keeper had a fine block from Samaras's left-footed drive from the edge of the box.

It looked like the afternoon might turn into a Celtic procession but in the 50th minute United found themselves back in the game when Rankin's long-distance drive sped past Forster and went in off the post.

Take a bow: Wanyama gave Cetic a comfortable cushion with the second goal

Take a bow: Wanyama gave Cetic a comfortable cushion with the second goal

The Tannadice midfielder's goal
stunned the Hoops support who groaned moments later when skipper Scott
Brown and Stokes got in the way of each other in the United box in their
bid to latch onto Matthews' cut-back, after the Wales defender had
worked hard down the right to reach the byline.

The Taysiders scented blood and in
the 57th minute, Forster making a great save from Daly's close-range
header after United defender Paul Dixon got clear down the left to
deliver a great cross.

Celtic survived the consequent
corner but nerves were being stretched. Celtic needed the third goal to
alleviate the growing tension and Samaras had the chance in the 72nd
minute when he raced into the box to meet a flighted cross from Matthews
but the Greece striker's diving header went straight to Pernis.

As the game entered the last 10
minutes United, sprightly and energetic, stepped up their quest for the
equaliser but Forster was well protected by his rearguard.

Samaras fired over the bar with five
minutes remaining and there was no real late push by United, to the
relief, no doubt, of the home support.