A team disrupted by seven changes and opposition with a clear game plan helped to make this a trickier assignment than many predicted for the champions.
Celtic stretched their unbeaten domestic run to 59 but their auxiliaries found things a lot tougher than the vast majority inside Celtic Park had hoped.
Bayern Munich scouts won’t have learned a lot prior to Wednesday’s Champions League clash. Indeed, they might have taken a note of one or two of the visitors’ names.
Dundee’s tactics were not merely designed to frustrate Celtic. They created openings. It was Olivier Ntcham who bailed out Celtic’s misfiring strikers and broke the deadlock after 61 minutes.
Leigh Griffiths was a surprise starter given his recent exertions and he endured an unhappy afternoon before being replaced by Moussa Dembele with 15 minutes left.
Scott Bain foiled the striker in a one-on-one situation shortly before Celtic edged ahead. The Dundee goalkeeper also denied the lively Patrick Roberts after a slaloming run past several Dundee defenders.
These moments left those in attendance wondering if this might be the day when Celtic were finally made to rue missed opportunities. But a mistake by Paul McGowan, which was unrepresentative of a tight, disciplined Dundee performance, cost the visitors in the end.
McGowan was dispossessed around 25 yards from goal and Ntcham sent in a vicious, swirling shot that left Bain beaten to his left just after the hour mark.
It was cruel on Dundee. But they did not give up there, nor should they have done, because they were asking questions of Celtic. They wasted the best chance that did come their way when Roarie Deacon, who had done well to hold off Dedryck Boyata, saw his shot saved by Dorus De Vries in another one-on-one situation with 11 minutes left.
De Vries had previously distinguished himself when beating away McGowan’s shot as the Dundee midfielder attempted to atone for his earlier mistake. The returning goalkeeper, who hasn’t played since coming off at half time against Kilmarnock last September, also made a good stop to deny Dundee substitute Faissal El Bakhtaoui in time added on.
Dundee manager Neil McCann was understandably delighted with his players’ efforts. While he never likes losing, he felt they didn’t deserve to, hence his pride. He also bemoaned being denied two, perhaps even three, penalties. Glen Kamara was perhaps too honest in the first-half as he struggled to stay on his feet after a nick from Nir Bitton after 32 minutes.
McCann was most exercised by the clash that saw centre-half Jack Hendry, one of Dundee’s best outfield players, flattened in the box after 68 minutes. He suffered a serious head gash which required five stitches after challenging for a high ball with Cristian Gamboa, who McCann felt was reckless. Hendry was replaced by Jesse Curran as Dundee switched from a 3-4-1-2 formation to the more orthodox 4-4-2 in a bid to take something from the match.
McCann also complained about Dundee being denied another penalty by referee Andrew Dallas. The manager felt Boyata had impeded Deacon as the chunky winger tried to divert the ball past De Vries. McCann did accept that Deacon should have scored nonetheless. However, De Vries stood up well.
Two players were making comebacks after significant spells out. De Vries lost his place following Craig Gordon’s reinstatement last year, while Dundee centre-half Josh Meekings was making his first appearance in 2017 after a serious injury. They both had reasonable claims to be awarded the man of the match award. They were entitled to feel nervous but enjoyed personal success stories.
Roberts was the one who collected the award and he was one of Celtic’s few bright spots. Other than Gordon, whose understudy proved more than capable, those rested will not fear for their place.