With Dundee United visiting Celtic Park this weekend, St Anthony takes a look back to a classic game between the clubs in March 1977.
26 March 1977 Celtic 2-0 Dundee United Attendance: 37,000
When Dundee United arrived in Glasgow to face Celtic in March 1977, they were only three points behind league leaders Celtic, and handily tucked into second place. With only five weeks of the league campaign remaining this was a must win game for United to keep the league alive and a win for Celtic would almost certainly ensure that the league flag would be bound for Parkhead.
Jim McLean had built an excellent side during his time at Tannadice to be title contenders for the first time. Their prized assets were their three young stars, David Narey, Graeme Payne, and Paul Sturrock, and those youngsters were backed up by more experienced campaigners such as Andy Rolland, George Fleming, and Doug Houston to provide an ideal blend of youth and experience. When the Celtic team was announced there were a number of surprises as Roy Baines made his debut as goalkeeper in place of the injured Peter Latchford, young Tommy Burns at left back in place of Andy Lynch, and Shuggie Edvaldsson filling in for Roddy MacDonald. With Celtic under strength, United were reckoned to be quite a proposition to take on.
A huge crowd was in the ground to watch and there was some surprise when the attendance was given as 37,000, on one of those days when you couldn’t quite imagine how another 30,000 could fit in the old place to bring it to capacity. United had one extra fan on the day when Aston Villa’s Andy Gray turned up in the main stand to cheer on his old team mates and happily signed autographs for young fans. Celtic opened up with an unusual formation with a back four of Aitken, Edvaldsson, Stanton and Burns with the brilliant Danny McGrain pushed up field in what would have been an example of an early wing back role.
The first real incident of note came in 23 minutes when McGrain fouled United’s Paul Hegarty in the area for a certain penalty. The crowd were stunned to silence as the unusual spectacle of Hamish McAlpine, the United goalkeeper, coming forward to take the spot kick. A deafening chorus of boos then resounded around the stadium as McAlpine approached to take it although those jeers quickly turned to cheers as Baines guessed correctly to dive and save. United’s Tom McAdam was then booked for man handling Baines as he tried to boot the ball up the park towards Celtic forwards who were ultra keen to bear down on an empty United goal.
The game turned just before half time due to two incidents. Firstly, with Graeme Payne impressing in midfield, Hegarty and Sturrock saw shots blocked from within the area within seconds of each other with Baines happy to pounce on the rebound. Then a Celtic attack resulted in the game’s opening goal. McGrain passed to Conn on the right hand side of the area and he quickly swung over a cross for Celtic striker Joe Craig to rise and firmly head past McAlpine.
In 50 minutes Celtic all but killed the game. A poor McAlpine kick out saw Johnny Doyle race towards goal and the United keeper, clearly not having the best of days, hauled Doyle down for a penalty. The reliable Ronnie Glavin made no mistake from 12 yards by blasting a shot past McAlpine. The Celtic crowd were now making plenty of noise and they voiced their approval for Celtic’s best player on the day, their recent new signing from Spurs, Alfie Conn. He displayed an array of skills and always carried a threat. Joe Craig almost made it three when his shot was touched on to the bar and over by McAlpine.
The game finished 2-0 and Celtic were cheered off at full time. Those cheers were increased even more when it was announced that relegation bound Kilmarnock had beaten Rangers 1-0 at Rugby Park. Celtic were now only three weeks away from winning the title when the beat Hibs 1-0 at Easter Road on 16 April. This was their 10th league success under the stewardship of the great Jock Stein. There would also be considerable success for Dundee United and Jim McLean in later years as his hard work paid off with trophies arriving at Tannadice as soon as 1979.