The final yards of a marathon are usually the hardest. In need of a single point to capture their 52nd league title, Celtic are finally over the finishing line.
For the 16th time in 22 seasons the Parkhead side are champions of Scotland once more, consigning the catastrophic campaign of last season to the dustbin of history.
Ange Postecoglou’s team fell below their sparkling best on Wednesday night. After a laboured first half, a header from Giorgos Giakoumakis seemed likely to finish the job in style. A magnificent 25-year equaliser from Dylan Levitt made this an inexplicably nervy affair.
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou (above) led his side to the Scottish Premiership title in his first season at Parkhead after securing a 1-1 draw against Dundee United on Wednesday night
When the final whistle finally sounded, nothing could hold back the fans’ tidal wave of title joy
Hoops stars hugged and celebrated in front of the supporters after winning the championship
A superior goal difference meant there was never any realistic prospect of being caught. Midweek winners at the same venue in 1981 and 2008, the jubilation and relief of the final whistle still felt like the release of a pressure valve.
Players gathered in front of the Carling Stand, where many of Celtic’s support were housed, to celebrate with in their ‘We Never Stop’ t-shirts.
On Saturday they get to do it before their own supporters, the cinch Premiership trophy due to be presented after the final home game of the season against Motherwell.
Dundee United had their chances to chalk up a rare home win and delay the party, but could be satisfied with the point.
Four points clear of Ross County a fifth place finish will see the Tangerines play European football in the Conference League qualifiers for the first time in a decade.
Match Facts: Dundee United vs Celtic, Scottish Premiership
Dundee United (3-5-2): Siegrist 7; Freeman 6, Edwards 6, McMann 6; Smith 6, Meekison 6 (Mochrie 70, 3), McDonald 5 (Mulgrew 58, 4), Levitt 7, Niskanen 5; MacLeod 6 (Watt 58, 3), Clark 5.
Subs not used: Eriksson; Sporle, Neilson, Graham, Cudjoe, O’Donnell.
Goals: Levitt 72.
Manager: Tam Courts.
Celtic (4-3-3): Hart 6; Ralston 6, Carter-Vickers 7, Starfelt 6, Taylor 7; O’Riley 6 (Turnbull 63, 4), McGregor 7, Hatate 6 (Rogic 63, 4); Forrest 6 (Jota 63, 4), Giakoumakis 8 (Furuhashi 90+2, 1), Abada (Maeda 70).
Subs not used: Bain; Welsh, McCarthy, Ideguchi.
Goals: Giakoumakis 53.
Yellow cards: Taylor 57.
Manager: Ange Postecoglou.
Referee: Nick Walsh.
Star Man: Giorgos Giakoumakis.
In the first half the champions-elect played as if the job was already done. In their poorest 45 minutes for some time they carved some useful chances, the finishing woeful.
In the absence of any goals the away support focussed instead of bringing out the old songs of war, adding an offensive new ditty about former Rangers kitman Jimmy Bell. By the end of a laboured, uninspired first half even the objectionable songbook had dried up.
It was never supposed to be this hard. Dundee United’s last home win came Celtic in 2014, their only success in the past 21 league meetings.
The visitors had won 3-0 on both of their previous visits, in the league and Scottish Cup. This was a much better display all round, European football a worthy reward for capitalising on Celtic’s second half tension.
There was a first United start for 16-year-old striker Rory MacLeod, while former Celtic duo Charlie Mulgrew and Tony Watt started on the bench. Despite the inexperience in the home team the team chasing the league title failed to capitalise.
They had an early chance to streak into the lead after three minutes. A clever short corner from James Forrest to Matt O’Riley brought a cut-back for Anthony Ralston. The full-back blazed a wild shot over the bar.
That was the story of their efforts in the first half; enterprising lead-up play followed by wayward finishing.
Before the half hour Giorgos Giakoumakis rolled a delightful ball into the path of Reo Hatate. A glorious chance to get the party started was lost when the Japanese lashed a wild effort high and wide.
Greek striker Giakoumakis was in a generous mood, unselfishly rolling a real chance into the path of James Forrest after springing the offside trap. The winger just failed to make contact or Celtic could have had the lead.
Perhaps surprised by how untroubled they were in defence – by Celtic standards – Dundee United found the confidence to venture forward before half-time.
Archie Meekison, a 20-year-old midfielder, showed deft footwork on the edge of the area to make space for a shot which drifted wide of Joe Hart’s right hand post. It was a reminder to Celtic that their performance had been short of expectation in the first half.
Hoops striker Giorgos Giakoumakis (right) gave the hosts the lead with a 53rd-minute strike
The Greek star headed past ‘keeper Benjamin Siegrist after a superb Anthony Ralston cross
United keeper Benjamin Siegrist had been untested. While a point was fine, it wasn’t the outcome a 5000-strong travelling support – or Ange Postecoglou – had in mind.
Eight minutes after the restart the Celtic support filling two stands finally had their goal.
Deft footwork from Ralston on the right touchline saw the full-back stand up a perfect cross into the danger area. For once Giakoumakis chose to help himself, rising above the Dundee United defence to nod his 15th goal of the season – his 14th since Christmas – past Siegrist.
A goal down, United now had nothing to lose. The home side thought they had a leveller when the teenager MacLeod smacked a low shot against the base of the post, beating Joe Hart. Nicky Clark slammed the rebound high into an unguarded net, Celtic supporters cheering an offside flag with relief.
Suddenly it was all United. Substitute Tony Watt swooped to nod a cross against the woodwork once again, Ralston earning the congratulations of Hart for denying Ilmari Niskanen an easy tap in from the rebound.
United midfielder Dylan Levitt (right) equalised with 20 minutes left to make it a nervy game
His team visibly sagging, Ange Postecoglou responded. When the manager can bring on three players like Jota, Tom Rogic and David Turnbull with half an hour to play it’s not hard to see why Celtic are champions.
Jota almost made an instant impact when his brilliant run produced a brilliant save from Siegrist.
When it seemed Celtic were about to ramp up the pressure for a second goal United levelled with 18 minutes to play. The goal was an absolute screamer, a goal-of-the-season contender.
Signed on loan from Manchester United, Dylan Levitt has been a revelation for Tam Courts. And the quality of the 25-yard strike which fizzed past Joe Hart into the corner of the net to silence the away support was beyond dispute.
As the board went up for four minutes of added time Dundee United forced a free-kick in a dangerous position, Ryan Edwards missing a wonderful chance to earn the home side a rare home win which would have delayed the celebration.
When the final whistle finally sounded, nothing could hold back the tidal wave of title joy.