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Celtic clinch SPL championship in dramatic finale (SN)

SoccerNews in Scottish Premier League 23 May 2008


Celtic clinched their third Scottish Premier League title in a row with a 1-0 victory at Dundee United in a dramatic finale on Thursday.

Dutch striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was the Parkhead side's hero, scoring the only goal of the game in the 72nd minute.

But Celtic would still have lifted the SPL trophy even if they had lost, after Aberdeen won 2-0 at home to Rangers.

The results meant the Parkhead club finished on 89 points, three ahead of Rangers.

And Gordon Strachan became the first Celtic manager since the legendary Jock Stein to win three Scottish league titles in a row.

Strachan told BBC Radio Scotland: “This has been one of the most fantastic occasions of my life. I'm with a bunch of guys who believed in me and I believed in them.

“I really do believe this is one the most satisfying nights of my life – not for me really but to see the players who have come under a lot of pressure during the season.

“What I'm going to do now is – and it's only fair – I'm going to go away and be with people who have supported and believed in us the whole season through.”

The Celtic players paid tribute to former player, manager and first team coach Tommy Burns – who lost his battle against cancer last week – by wearing t-shirts with his picture and the the words “You'll Never Walk Alone.”

Celtic had looked certain to open the scoring in the 13th minute when Shunsuke Nakamara's pass found Aiden McGeady clear in the penalty box.

The Republic of Ireland international hit a first-time effort on target but United's Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska made a fantastic save to push over the bar. Two minutes later Zaluska made an even better save to deny Celtic.

Nakamura's cross was met by former United midfielder Barry Robson and his header looked destined for the top corner until the keeper acrobatically leapt to tip the ball over.

Celtic were now dominating the match but in the 25th minute the home side almost snatched the lead.

Daniel Swanson stole in at the back post to get on the end of Willo Flood's cross but lifted the ball too high to trouble Celtic's Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

As half time approached it was United who were gaining the upperhand and Dutch striker Mark De Vries fired wide from the edge of the box in the 38th minute when he should have at least hit the target.

At Pittodrie, Rangers had also failed to take the lead by the break despite enjoying the majority of possession.

Celtic should have been ahead within the first minute of the second half but Vennegoor of Hesselink shot straight at Zaluska when he had time to pick his spot.

Nerves were beginning to become more evident as the match continued and in the 59th minute Dundee United were nearly ahead.

Swanson's volley from the corner of the penalty area was heading for the top corner of the net until Boruc made a spectacular save to push over.

However, in the 63rd minute the Celtic fans were celebrating a goal – although it was not scored at Tannadice.

Aberdeen had taken a shock lead against Rangers when Barry Nicholson's free-kick was headed home by Lee Miller from eight-yards.

The destination of the title was now firmly in Celtic's hands and they took an even stronger grip in the 72nd minute when they took the lead.

Paul Hartley's inswinging corner was met by Vennegoor of Hesselink who leapt highest to power a header beyond Zaluska.

The championship was then all but confirmed when Aberdeen scored their second goal in the 77th minute.

Former Celtic winger Jamie Smith poked the ball into the path of Darren Mackie and he drove the ball past Rangers goalkeeper Neil Alexander from close range.

Rangers' misery continued shortly after when Nacho Novo was sent-off for a horrific tackle on on Stuart Duff.

In the third SPL game on Thursday, Motherwell won 2-0 away to Hibs with Simon Lappin scoring in the first half and Jamie Murphy converting a penalty after the break.

Asked to sum up his feelings afterwards, Rangers boss Walter Smith said: “At the present moment, just disappointment.

“I felt at one stage of the season we had a good opportunity to win the league. That was more than I would have expected in the first year but it was there so the disappointment is even greater when it doesn't materialise.

“We are obviously disappointed with the outcome tonight and obviously disappointed that we have lost out on the championship.

“There wasn't much between the two teams in the game and we were disappointed to lose from two set plays – I think it was mental tiredness as much as anything else.”


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