OUR look at Celtic in the 1990s moves on to the next era with the club under new management as Celtic looked forward to the opening match of season 1991-92.
In the last instalment we looked at the appointment of Liam Brady who replaced Billy McNeill following his controversial sacking, and the pre-season campaign that took in an Irish tour before a 2-2 draw at Highbury in Paul Davis testimonial match.
The Celts finished off with a home pre-season match against Tottenham Hotspur at Celtic Park a game in which a John Collins goal saw the Celts ready themselves for the season ahead with a 1-0 win.
Collins was about to come to the fore as a key Celtic performer following a quiet settling in period to his first season.
The Celts and new manager Brady opened the season on 10 August 1991 at Tannadice against a Dundee United side that had only conceded one goal to a Celtic player in the entirety of the previous campaign.
Celtic’s task was made a little less treacherous in theory, with United minus four first team players, sitting the game out due to suspensions carried over from the previous campaign.
All the same facing the previous year’s cup finalists and a team they had battled with for the final European spot until the last day of the previous season would mean it was always likely to be a close encounter.
Celtic welcomed top pre-season signing Tony Cascarino, a £1.1 million purchase from Aston Villa where the player had scored 12 goals in 50 games for his previous club.
Cascariono was part of a Celtic team that lined up: Bonner, Morris, Rogan, Grant, Whyte Wdowczyk, Fulton, Coyne Cascarino, Nicholas and Collins.
Dundee United lined up with a few recognisable faces with -Main, Cleland, Malpas, Bowman, Muller, McKinlay, O’Neil, O’Neill, French, Preston and Ferguson
United started the match the stronger with new signing Muller forcing a fine save from a well worked corner in the opening minutes.
Celtic reacted well and drew first blood. An Anton Rogan long throw was defended poorly by the Tannadice side at the front post. The presence of Tommy Coyne caused panic in the penalty area and Charlie Nicholas took advantage of the lack of organisation in the opponent’s rear-guard and headed bravely into the net to give the Hoops an early advantage, taking a knock to the face in the process.
Tommy Coyne then grabbed the limelight and the goal that put Celtic 2-0 up soon after. This time with Nicholas playing creator.
Coyne picked up the ball following a long pass halfway into the United half. The striker laid the ball off to Nicholas, who returned the favour feeding the ball through the eye of a needle. Coyne read the intentions and broke behind the United defence and struck a fantastic drive from just inside the 18 yard box that flew past Alan Main in the Dundee United goal. A wonderfully worked goal. As an attacking threat Celtic had their tails up and United were in a spin.
John Collins had an opportunity hitting an effort from the edge of the box following a sharp corner from Stevie Fulton. Main grabbed the ball with Nicholas ready to pounce. Celtic were swarming United and it looked like more goals were in the offing.
United however worked their way back into the match well with Malpas and Bowman working well at the edge of the Celtic box. Bowman got to the byline and his cut back to the back post was put behind for a corner by Chris Morris.
It was sign that perhaps this United side hadn’t read the script they were very much still in the game.
From the resultant corner Dundee United got a penalty is dubious circumstances. United’s young striker and current caretaker boss at Everton Duncan Ferguson, was adjudged to have had his jersey pulled and referee Brian McGinley pointed to the spot.
No-one in the stadium or any player on the park seemed to claim for it and Pat Bonner was booked for his reaction to the baffling decision.
The decision gave United a chance to get back to within a goal, and the now Stoke and Northern Ireland national manager Michael O’Neill struck a brilliant left footed penalty into Bonner’s top left corner as the Celtic keeper dived to his bottom right. 2-1 and game on. This was some start to the 91/92 season.
A long throw from Rogan again caused chaos in a United defence that must have had United’s legendary manager Jim McLean pulling his hair out. The ball broke to the edge of the box and Celtic right back Morris hit a shot that Alan Main had to be sharp to block.
At the other end Duncan Ferguson had a header from a right wing John O’Neil cross that Bonner managed to save. The first half was now a very open game of football and from Celtic’s early dominance United had nearly gone in at the break on level terms.
Gerry Creaney then replaced a largely anonymous Cascarino in the 39th minute. The signs weren’t good for Celtic new boy. In a game of chances aplenty he’d been largely anonymous.
Creaney immediately involved himself by stopping a Billy McKinlay quick free kick and McKinlay saw himself go into the referee’s book for his reaction in pushing Creaney in the chest. Creaney followed by being cautioned himself as he became the fifth player booked in a high octane first half.
As the half moved into injury time John Collins announced himself on the new football season with a goal right out the top drawer.
A Bonner goal kick was flicked on and met by Creaney who laid the ball off and set off expecting a return pass. That pass never came as Collins wand of a left foot struck a dipping and swerving shot from 25 yards past a shell-shocked Alan Main and high into the net, to send a huge travelling support into an outpouring of joy.
A goal of the season contender on the opening weekend and a reminder to Celtic fans as to why the club had paid in excess of £1million pounds to Hibs for this diamond of a midfield player.
In a brilliant first half and a feast of open attacking play Celtic were leading 3-1 at the break. Surely the second half would be a little more sedate?
Celtic had shown signs of slackness at the back but a few words to the wise from new manager Liam Brady and they should be able to defend a two goal lead in the second half. Surely.
Mixu Paatelainen came on for Hamish French for United at half time as the Tannadice club set out with real attacking intent. Having already struggled with the ariel presence of Duncan Ferguson in the first half here must have been a few concerns with the 6 foot plus Finnish striker now being added to the mix.
It was a long throw from the big Finn that saw Celtic get in quite the muddle in their own box and when they failed to clear their lines Michael O’Neill saw an opportunity to hit a low drive past an unsighted Pat Bonner to make the score United 2 Celtic 3. Game on once again.
John Collins had a great opportunity to restore Celtic’s two goal advantage when a Rogan cross to the back post, following a quickly taken free kick from Steve Fulton but the midfielders shot went wide of the goal.
Then came the moment that shook the Celtic support and defence. Bowman followed the first half pattern and worked the ball well down United’s right, looping a fantastic cross to Celtic’s back post where Duncan Ferguson rose and outmuscled a Celtic defence that struggled to cope with his height and strength all afternoon. Ferguson headed past Bonner to make it 3-3. Suddenly that wonderful start to the season was looking under threat.
All was not lost. With four minutes to go and time slipping away Anton Rogan played a direct pass over his shoulder to the edge of the United box. Gerry Creaney reacted and managed to knock the ball down to John Collins at the edge of the box. Collins sensed an opportunity to get his second goal of the match but the sheer class in the execution caught everyone by surprise.
Collins let the ball bounce before using his amazing technique to unleash a half volley with his left foot past Main and into the top corner. As Gerry McNee that match commentator said ‘well his first goal was brilliant, his second really was out of this world’.
A brilliant goal from man of the match John Collins to win a pulsating opening league game and Liam Brady’s Celtic team were off to a flier.
In a game of brilliant attacking football from Celtic in particular there were obvious concerns as to Celtic’s ability to deal with long diagonal ball, with all three conceded coming as a result of that tactic.
But then it was only the first game of the campaign. There would be plenty time for Brady to iron out the defensive deficiencies or so we hoped.
16, 535 were at Tannadice to see Brady’s first steps into management and you couldn’t say they weren’t entertained. Brady’s entertainers won 4-3 but the defensive frailties were already evident. You can judge for yourselves from the highlights. It’s worth the watch for John Collins goals alone.
Celtic would have a tough August ahead. The Bhoys would face an away trip to last season’s runners up Aberdeen and a home encounter with the Champions Rangers a busy opening month.
We’ll look back at just how they got on in the next part of The Celtic Star’s look back at Celtic in the 1990s.