Neil's Bhoys ready to go fourth on home front

FORTRESS Parkhead can now be named Four-tress Parkhead – domestically, at least.

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  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
    Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
  • Match action from Celtic v Dundee United. Pictures: Stewart Attwood

The SPL champions put four goals between them and high-flying Dundee United with the 6-2 thrashing of Jackie McNamara's side.

In their previous three league games at home, Neil Lennon's men banged in four against Kilmarnock, United and Hearts.

And it's free-scoring form which has blasted them 18 points clear in the quest to retain the title. And it's what made the margin of defeat against Juventus when they re-entered the European arena last midweek such a shock to the system of the players and the fans.

The problem remains that the level of competition the Hoops are experiencing domestically means that stepping up to the very top level requires a huge transition of pace, concentration and technique.

But there is little if anything Lennon can do about that. His players can only beat what is put in front of them, and next up is St Johnstone tomorrow night.

Lennon would like nothing better than to wrap up this title as quickly as possible.

That looks like it could happen before the break, unless nearest challengers Motherwell find a golden run of form.

After a stuttering start to the defence of the title they brought back to Parkhead in May, the push for the finishing line has very much been on since the turn of the year.

Lennon makes no attempt to hide his desire to get the trophy signed and sealed up at the earliest opportunity.

The Hoops boss said: "You always like to do that because then we can maybe give some of the senior players a little break.

"We're going to have to start back even earlier next year (the opening Champions League qualifier is in mid-July) and it would give me the chance to blood some of the younger lads as well.

"But I'm not taking anything for granted. I reckon we need another four or five good wins."

If the first of those comes at Perth tomorrow, St Johnstone will lose not only the match but their claim to be unbeaten against the champions in the SPL this season.

The McDiarmid Park club caught Celtic cold back in September when they won 2-1, inflicting the Hoops' first defeat of the season.

"Since then, we beat them well in the League Cup at Celtic Park (5-0), but then they came back to our place in the league in November and took another point," said Lennon, those results clearly etched in his mind.

"They had a very good win at Hibs on Monday night, so we know they are a difficult team. They always are. They are in the top six on merit.

"Coming off the back of Derek McInnes – who did a great job there – Steve Lomas has just carried on in the same way."

Nevertheless, it would be a huge surprise if Saints can spike the guns of a Celtic side which is scoring for fun on the home front.

Their six-shooters at the weekend took their goal tally in the seven domestic games played since the mid-season break to 26.

Little wonder Lennon likes what he sees. He said: "Since we came back, our home form has been fantastic.

"To be fair, our domestic form has been excellent, apart from the St Mirren League Cup semi-final.

"Since we defeated Spartak in the final Champions League group stage game, that's 10 wins out of 11 league games we have won, so they are playing very well."

It's certainly proving too much for the teams trying to halt the Hoops juggernaut.

United – who have been winning games and plaudits since former Celt McNamara took over – were no match for a side determined to bounce back from their midweek Euro disappointment.

"They came to make a game of it, and you have got to give Jackie credit for that," said Lennon as he reflected on an entertaining 90 minutes which saw the visitors taking an early lead.

Lennon continued: "They scored a very good first goal, which was well taken, and, for long periods, they were in the game.

"But going forward I thought that we looked very dangerous. There was good pace to our play and good quality."

Ironically, for all that they are sweeping sides away in the SPL, it was the third time in a week Celtic had conceded the opening goal.

However, Lennon was not concerned as he watched Stuart Armstrong put United ahead after only 10 minutes.

A minute later Efe Ambrose had added another chapter to an eventful week by equalising, before Kris Commons put them ahead on 22 minutes.

Joe Ledley extended their lead, then Commons got another from the spot before an Anthony Stokes double sealed the deal, rendering Johnny Russell's final-minute solo effort insignificant.

Lennon was happy to see his side retain their composure, even though first blood went to United, and was even more pleased to see who got the goals in response.

"It was very early in the game when United scored, and it came from an individual mistake," said the manager.

"But we recovered well, and I was delighted for Efe that he was the man who got the equaliser. I wish he had done that on Tuesday against Juventus. We would have been right in the game.

"I was delighted with the response he got from the crowd when we took him off near the end. That will give him a huge lift.

"I wasn't really concerned how the crowd might react to him. You could see they were right behind the team and appreciate the side we have got here."

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