Match ends, Dundee United 0, Celtic 3.
- Leaders Celtic back to eight points clear
- Celtic could win title next weekend
- Leigh Griffiths' second hat-trick in 11 days
- Dundee United remain in fifth place
Leigh Griffiths' second-half hat-trick handed Celtic a victory over Dundee United that gives them the chance to win the Premiership title next weekend.
A depleted and youthful home side had competed bravely until Griffiths' clinical low finish two minutes after the break at Tannadice.
The striker added a close-range finish and a third from the penalty spot.
Celtic can secure the title on Saturday should they defeat Dundee on Friday and Aberdeen fail to beat Dundee United.
Griffiths completed the scoring after Gary Mackay-Steven was felled by John Rankin.
Referee Willie Collum appeared to have erred as the offence looked a yard outside the penalty box, but by then it mattered little with Celtic cruising to a victory that puts them within touching distance of their fourth consecutive title with four games remaining.
United end the weekend in fifth, their season having gone downhill since Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong were sold to Celtic in January and being overtaken by St Johnstone after the Perth side's win over Dundee on Saturday.
That run of six defeats in seven outings included three at the hands of the Glasgow side in three different competitions.
Their chances of reversing that trend were hampered further by injuries that have ended the season early for Paul Paton, Ryan Dow and Mario Bilate, while top striker Nadir Ciftci was also sidelined through suspension.
It meant a first start up front for their January arrival from Kilmarnock, Robbie Muirhead, one of four teenagers lining up against a side that could afford to drop internationals James Forrest, Efe Ambrose and Mackay-Steven to the bench.
The bulk of traffic was predictably flowing towards the United goal, but it was Muirhead who forced the first save of the match after 20 minutes, his 22-yard snap shot forcing Craig Gordon to warm his international-quality fingertips.
Stung by that, Celtic responded by upping the pressure, but the only time they managed to evade the brave blocks and lunges in the United defence, a controlled Virgil van Dijk side-foot flew straight at goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak.
United were dangerous breaking forward and their youthful line-up was giving the reigning champions the kind of test they had failed to deliver in the League Cup final, the Scottish Cup quarter-final and the league game that followed.
Yet, after all that hard work, the home side left their vigilance in the dressing-room shortly after the break when Stefan Johansen picked out Griffiths unmarked wide inside a crowded penalty area and the striker fired low into the far corner.
Celtic had a fresh spring in their step and Cierzniak did well to push away a Kris Commons diving header and then a powerful drive from Johansen.
United's confidence once more crumbling, their chances of recovery were effectively extinguished when Griffiths forced the ball over the line from close range after it crashed off the inside of the post and across the face of goal when Van Dijk rose to challenge Callum Morris.
Mackay-Steven had already fired a thunderbolt off the post before the substitute's powerful run pierced his former side's defence only to be cut down by Rankin and hand Griffiths a match ball-winning finale - his second hat-trick within 11 days.
- 8RankinBooked at 83mins
- 24SpittalSubstituted forConnollyat 78'minutes
- 21TelferSubstituted forCooteat 69'minutes
- 17ErskineSubstituted forAnierat 85'minutes
- 2MatthewsSubstituted forAmbroseat 69'minutes
- 5van Dijk
- 8BrownBooked at 31mins
- 25JohansenSubstituted forForrestat 72'minutes
- 14ArmstrongSubstituted forMackay-Stevenat 60'minutes
- William Collum
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Dundee United 0, Celtic 3.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by John Rankin.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by Jaroslaw Fojut.
Aidan Connolly (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Leigh Griffiths (Celtic).
Substitution, Dundee United. Henri Anier replaces Chris Erskine.
Goal! Dundee United 0, Celtic 3. Leigh Griffiths (Celtic) converts the penalty with a left footed shot to the bottom right corner.
John Rankin (Dundee United) is shown the yellow card.
Penalty Celtic. Gary Mackay-Steven draws a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty conceded by John Rankin (Dundee United) after a foul in the penalty area.
Gary Mackay-Steven (Celtic) hits the bar with a left footed shot from the centre of the box.
Foul by John Souttar (Dundee United).
Kris Commons (Celtic) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Dundee United. Aidan Connolly replaces Blair Spittal.
Foul by Nir Bitton (Celtic).
John Souttar (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Celtic. James Forrest replaces Stefan Johansen because of an injury.
Substitution, Dundee United. Alistair Coote replaces Charlie Telfer.
Substitution, Celtic. Efe Ambrose replaces Adam Matthews.