SOMETIMES the value of a player is most obvious in his absence. Virgil van Dijk was left out of the Celtic line-up because his mind was not fully on the job, according to manager Ronny Deila, and in his absence the champions’ defence was disorganised and lacklustre.
Scorers: Dundee - McPake 1; Celtic - Griffiths 55
They lost a goal in the first minute from a set piece, and even though Leigh Griffiths came off the bench to claim a second-half equaliser, Dundee were still in the match right to the end and had any number of chances to score a late winner.
While Van Dijk has been dreaming of a move to England, on this form the rest of the Celtic defence will be going nowhere other than into their own reserve side. That could also be the case for on-loan forward Jo Inge Berget, who was replaced by Griffiths before half-time after an insubstantial performance.
The home team were stopped at times by late blocks from the likes of Jason Denayer, but the Celtic back four deserve little credit for such interventions. It was only their initial ineptitude that allowed Dundee into decent positions in the first place.
Still, while Celtic were poor, Paul Hartley’s side showed excellent character to maintain their unbeaten start to the league season. Behind yesterday’s opponents only on goal difference – though Celtic have played a game fewer – they have given themselves a solid platform from which to achieve survival in their first season back in the top flight.
The opening goal was astonishingly easy. The impressive Philip Roberts floated a corner from the right to just outside the six-yard box, and James McPake leaped highest to send a downwards header into the far corner of the net.
The only mitigating factor from a Celtic point of view was the fact that the bounce taken by the header deceived both Craig Gordon in goal and Callum McGregor who was on the post. Even so, it was a collective lapse of concentration by the champions, who had been slow to react to the break down the flank by Roberts which won the corner in the first place.
Celtic slowly began to impose themselves on the game over the following quarter of an hour, but at the end of that spell they were close to falling two behind. Roberts again did the damage down the right, and Peter MacDonald just failed to connect with his firmly struck cross at the back post.
Roberts came closer still a few minutes later, making space for himself all too easily and firing in a low shot that came back off the base of the left post. Celtic looked committed enough to their task in attack, with Kris Commons being particularly threatening, but at the back they appeared to be at best half awake.
They were still sleepwalking ten minutes from half-time when Dundee varied their line of attack and from inside his own half Roberts lofted a ball down the middle for MacDonald to chase. The pace of the ball seemed just too fast for the striker at first, but he got there just ahead of Gordon, and was unlucky to see his first-time lob go a foot or so over the bar.
Deila was slow to react to his team’s glaring failings, but when he did respond a few minutes before half-time, he reshuffled wisely. Berget, who had been ineffectual on the left wing and done nothing to protect left-back Emilio Izaguirre from Roberts’ forays, was taken off to the vocal relief of the visiting support. Griffiths, a better striker and far more willing worker, came on.
There was another change at the start of the second half, with Eoghan O’Connell replacing Adam Matthews. Efe Ambrose moved to right-back and the new man took his place at centre-half alongside Denayer. Celtic looked far more purposeful on the resumption, with Izaguirre going from tormented to tormentor as he made inroads down the left. Roberts, making his first league start for Dundee, was nowhere near as full of running as he had been earlier, which allowed the Honduran to venture forward almost with impunity.
When the equaliser came, however, it was from the right. Griffiths, always a danger from just outside the penalty box, received a pass in just enough space to tee himself up. Kyle Letheren might have had his shot covered, but it took a deflection off Thomas Konrad and hit the left post on its way into the net.
O’Connell was not far away with a header from a Commons corner as Celtic went in search of the winner, but Dundee, though on the back foot and restricted for a time to the occasional break, were not finished either. With 15 minutes left Martin Boyle was almost free down the left, but as the substitute shot, Denayer got back to block the ball and send it behind for a corner. Or at least it should have been a corner: referee Craig Thomson, having failed to see a substantial change of direction in the path of the ball, awarded a goal kick instead.
Minutes later Boyle was on target at the end of a similar break, but this time Gordon denied him with a strong parry. Then, entering the last ten minutes, Boyle skipped past Denayer and shot past Gordon only to see his effort trail wide of the far post.
Luka Tankulic was not far away with a long-range effort as Dundee continued to look for the three points. Anthony Stokes hit the post with a powerful shot and Griffiths forced Letheren to make a fine save as Celtic, too, finished strongly. Tankulic pulled another shot wide with just minutes to go, but by that time a winner for either side would have been unjust.
Dundee: Letheren, McGinn, Konrad, McPake, Irvine, Roberts (Boyle 66), Harkins (Ferry 58), McGowan, McAlister, Stewart, MacDonald (Tankulic 57).
Celtic: Gordon, Matthews (O’Connell 45), Ambrose, Denayer, Izaguirre, McGregor, Johansen, Kayal (Biton 71), Berget (Griffiths 41), Commons, Stokes.