GIVEN their respective positions at either end of the Scottish Premier League, it was asking a lot to expect Dundee to conjure up a first win against Celtic at Dens Park since 1988. So it proved, as Neil Lennon’s side hit the 40-point total after goals from Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper.
Celtic - Samaras (16), Hooper (71)
Referee: I Brines
However, this was a better match than anyone had the right to expect after the opening 45 minutes, when the visitors enjoyed almost complete dominance in what was a lively – if not always festive – atmosphere at Dens. Dundee were re-born in the second-half and it took Hooper’s intervention, with just under 20 minutes left, to quell their spirit.
Lennon returned to the ground where he made his Celtic debut as a peroxide blond midfield terrier 12 years ago. His affection for the old stadium can only have intensified after a win that further increased Celtic’s lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League. Sadly for Dundee, defeat leaves them further marooned at the bottom.
Perhaps surprisingly, Fraser Forster, the Celtic keeper, emerged a hero. His save from Colin Nish’s point-blank header in the 50th minute denied Dundee an equaliser, and though their play was a lot more fluid in the second-half, the hosts never got so near to scoring again.
Dundee suffered two blows in the run-up to kick-off. News that Nicky Riley, their principal creative outlet, would be absent through injury was the first set-back. This was compounded by the results that filtered back to Dens yesterday afternoon. Having begun the day just six points behind 11th place, they kicked-off last night a deflating nine points adrift after a win for Ross County at Hibs and a draw achieved by St Mirren at Inverness.
The desperation that is beginning to be sensed at Dens Park perhaps accounts for Dundee’s nervy start. Nevertheless, they did carve out of the first chance of the game on eight minutes when Stephen O’Donnell, playing his first game since August, curled a shot over the bar after Jim McAlister had harassed Emilio Izaguirre into making a poor clearance. Thereafter, Celtic took control and looked dangerous each time they won a corner. Dundee hacked clear the first two; the visitors struck with their third.
It was clearly turning out to be a busy night for Robert Douglas, the former Celtic keeper who offered the away fans a quick clap in acknowledgement as he took his place in front of them at the start of the first-half. He has been a major reason for Dundee having picked up as many points as they have in this difficult first season back in the SPL.
The keeper did well to turn a Tony Watt volley past the post, but the price was a corner, and from each one of these Celtic looked likely to score. Indeed, Efe Ambrose very nearly opened the scoring after 13 minutes when his effort from Mulgrew’s corner bashed back off the bar. Victor Wanyama hit the rebound over amid a throng of fretting Dundee defenders.
It looked only a matter of time until the opening goal and four minutes later it came. No one could be surprised by the source – another Mulgrew corner. Watt was the player on the end of it. His shot was parried out by Douglas but
some impressive acrobatics from Samaras saw the striker reposition himself in order to execute bicycle kick. It was hit with sufficient power to evade Jim McAlister on the line. He could only head it on its way into the roof of the net.
Five minutes later, Samaras might have put Celtic further ahead. After an exchange of passes with Kayal, he out-sprinted Kyle Benedictus with some ease. He attempted to place his shot into the corner of Douglas’ net, but the keeper was alert to this and tipped the ball round the post. Again, the alarm bells rang for Dundee. Remarkably, and although Dundee continued to offer precious little in attack, the threatened mis-match did not quite develop in terms of scoreline.
Whether this could be attributed to Celtic easing off or Dundee managing to catch their breath is difficult to answer. Possibly it was down to a combination of the two factors. Whatever the reason, Dundee made it to the interval just a goal down. It was a result, of sorts. It also provided them with something to build on when they re-emerged. Just five minutes after the re-start came a defining moment. Conroy did well to clip in a cross from the left and Nish rose to meet the ball from just inside the six-yard box. Forster, though, was unmoved, and simply extended his long left arm to claw the ball away.
Barry Smith’s subtle tactical change – he swapped Nish and Baird around, so the former was now the deeper-lying forward – helped bring Dundee further forward. Both strikers were now more prominent, and Baird saw a deflected effort just clear the bar. Lennon’s belief that Celtic needed a boost was made clear when he replaced Kayal with James Forrest on the hour mark.
Just 11 minutes later, Celtic sealed the points when Mikael Lustig, who had replaced Mulgrew at half-time, played in Hooper and the striker’s lob cleared Douglas and bounced high into the net.
Dundee: Douglas, Irvine, Lockwood, Benedictus, Gallagher, McAlister, O’Donnell (Boyle 83), McBride, Conroy, John Baird (Stewart 74), Nish. Subs not used: Alex Baird, McGregor, Easton, Reid.
Celtic: Forster, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew (Lustig 46), Izaguirre, Wanyama, Brown, Kayal (Forrest 60), Hooper, Samaras, Watt (McCourt 79). Subs not used: Zaluska, Miku, Nouioui, Rogne.