herald

Thursday 17 January 2019

Stokes stakes old firm claim

Anthony Stokes made a scoring return to the Celtic side that beat Dundee United 3-1 yesterday to give Neil Lennon something to think over ahead of Sunday's clash with Rangers.

The former Sunderland striker has been left out of the last two Old Firm clashes, with Celtic arguably turning in their best performances of the season in those matches at Ibrox.

Midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung made way for Stokes yesterday as Lennon returned to a more familiar 4-4-2 after going with just one striker in the two games against Rangers.

Stokes -- pictured left celebrating his goal with team-mate Gary Hooper -- vindicated that decision by giving Celtic the lead with a deflected shot in the 16th minute following a defence splitting pass from Biram Kayal.

Another deflected shot from Mark Wilson doubled Celtic's lead and although the homeside pulled a goal back midway through the second half, Daniel Majstorovic's 78th-minute header sealed the points for Celtic and ensured that they face Rangers on Sunday with a five-point advantage.

Walter Smith's side do have two games in hand but face Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League on Thursday while Lennon's side focus their energy on Sunday's derby clash.



Sensational

"I thought the front two set the tone," said the Celtic boss. "In the first half they were sensational, we could have gone in with a more comfortable lead.

"At 2-0 you are always concerned Dundee United could get back in the game, and they did but there was a real belief about the team that they could have got another one, which they did.

"We got a bit of luck with the first two goals but I thought we earned it.

"We missed easier chances and should have been more clinical at times, but the fact that we created quality chances really pleased me."

With 25 points picked up from the last 27 available, the momentum is with Celtic going in to Sunday's Old Firm clash.

Lennon knows better than anyone that matches aren't won on paper and will have his squad primed for another titanic encounter against Rangers.

The heavy conditions at Tannadice restricted Celtic's usual passing game but the Celtic boss was delighted by the way that his players adapted.

"Ledley's first half was sensational and Kayal was a real driving force for the team," he added. "I'm really pleased with the application that they showed from the first whistle to the last, the fitness levels were very good

"They've all played in these conditions before, there's no prima donnas in the squad. The lot of them are prepared to roll up their sleeves, win the second ball and put their foot in. That started from the front today which pleased me more than anything else."

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