With Celtic due at Tannadice on Sunday, St Anthony looks back on a previous encounter between Dundee United and Celtic from 1982.
31 March 1982 Dundee United 0-2 Celtic
This game was played on a Wednesday evening and had an added incentive for Celtic given that they had lost 0-1 to Aberdeen the previous Saturday, a result which had now blown the league race wide open as Alex Fergusons’ Dons chased the Celts who were league leaders.
Injuries had been a curse for Celtic during the entire season so far with Charlie Nicholas breaking his leg and being out for the season and the hugely influential Scotland internationalists, Danny McGrain and Davie Provan, also being out for long spells. Celtic’s squad was down to the bare bones as they travelled north with young forward Danny Crainie playing only his fourth senior game and two talented but inexperienced 18 year olds, Paul McStay and Davie Moyes, on the bench.
United’s early season form had been exceptional. For three successive European games they had scored 5 goals at Tanndice by beating Monaco 5-2, Borussia Munchengladbach 5-0, and Winterslag 5-0. However, they were reeling from recently losing 3-2 on aggregate to the Yugoslavs of Radnicki Nis, in the UEFA cup quarter finals after they had blown a 2-0 lead from the first leg at Tannadice.. United’s success was chiefly down to three on field partnerships. Firstly, the exceptional centre back pairing of Paul Hegarty and David Narey, the wide men Ralph Milne and Eamonn Bannon, and the strike force duo of Paul Sturrock and Davie Dodds. However, their manager Jim McLean had pulled a surprise in his team selection by dropping Bannon to the bench and pushing Narey into midfield to accommodate a young Richard Gough in defence.
The large Celtic support in Tannadice were celebrating after only 85 seconds when Celtic took the lead. Tommy Burns sent Frank McGarvey to the bye line and when his cross came over, United’s keeper Hamish McAlpine spilled the ball under pressure by Crainie for Burns to volley into the net. United upped their game and dominated the match until half time. Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner thwarted United three times when he was required to make tremendous saves from Milne, Sturrock and Derek Stark to keep Celtic ahead at the break.
At the start of the second half Celtic missed a chance to go two up when Gorge McCluskey set up Burns who waited too long and allowed Stark to clear. Jim McLean then saw the error of his ways and replaced Gough with Bannon with Narey going back into his natural position in defence. Bannon almost brought United level when his deflected shot was turned around the post by the inspirational Bonner.
In 65 minutes Frank McGarvey missed a great opportunity when Murdo MacLeod’s delightful lob put him clear but the Celtic number 9 blazed the ball over the bar. Things got even worse for Frank just minutes later when he was carried off in pain after a collision with Hamish McAlpine. It was later discovered that he had broken his leg and would be out for the rest of the season as Celtic’s injury curse struck once again.
In 84 minutes Celtic killed the game with a terrific goal. McCluskey broke down the left on the break and played a fine pass to Crainie, and his lay off was perfect for Tommy Burns too drill a powerful low shot into the net. It finished 2-0 and was a huge result for Billy McNeill’s men with such a depleted squad. The heroes on the day had been goalkeeper Bonner, Roy Aitken who had marshalled the defence superbly, and the goal scoring hero, Burns. A special mention must also go to George McCluskey for playing when doubtful until kick off through suffering from an eye infection.
As a 16 year old I remember listening to Radio Scotland, who did not have live coverage but gave an update from Tannadice every fifteen minutes or so. When the presenter said there had been a goal at Tannadice in 84 minutes my heart sank but he went on to describe Burns’ fine second goal and the points were safe. This win was a huge factor in Celtic winning a close league race with Aberdeen at the end of the season on May.