DUNDEE United produced an extraordinarily dramatic finale to plunder a point from what had largely been a mundane match as Celtic reclaimed the summit of the SPL in what they will
regard as anti-climactic circumstances.
Dundee Utd: Mackay-Steven 89, Ambrose (og) 90
Celtic: Miku 69, Tony Watt 80
Neil Lennon’s men appeared to be cruising to what would, on the balance of play, have been a fully-merited
victory thanks to substitute Nicolas
Fedor’s first goal for the club and an equally accomplished finish by Tony Watt. But United, who had looked every inch a team struggling at the wrong end of the table for much of the afternoon, conjured up a stunning late revival which forced Celtic to settle for a draw which must have felt like a defeat.
Gary Mackay-Steven, continuing his rehabiliation after injury, netted what seemed to be a consolation goal in the 89th minute, before Celtic defender Efe Ambrose headed into his own goal in the first minute of stoppage time.
It is far from a seriously damaging
result for the defending champions, who now lead Hibs on goal difference at the top of the table with a game in hand. But it will be a source of frustration nonetheless for Lennon, who may nurse concerns over the sustained
concentration levels of his players on domestic business.
A fixture which has so often been among the most incident-filled and
absorbing in the SPL calendar was a
considerable disappointment for lengthy periods. In ideal conditions for football, both teams struggled to attain any fluency.
Although Celtic dominated possession, forcing United on to the back foot for much of the goalless first-half especially, their work too often lacked cohesion and penetration at the crucial moments.
Yet they should have been given the ideal platform for victory in the 13th minute when they carved out a rare clear-cut opportunity. Captain Scott Brown, by far the most purposeful presence in the visitors’ line-up, delivered a perfect cross from the right which picked out the unmarked Thomas Rogne in the heart of the penalty area.
It was a free header for Rogne, but he contrived to direct it wide of United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak’s left-hand post from no more than eight yards out. Just seven minutes later, Rogne’s afternoon came to a premature end. The injury-plagued Norwegian defender, who was making his first starting appearance for Celtic since
25 September, suddenly pulled up with a problem in his right calf.
He limped off to be replaced by
Ambrose, whom Lennon had presumably intended to rest completely ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League assignment against Barcelona and who would ultimately have the final word in this contest.
Gary Hooper was among the absentees for Celtic yesterday, their leading striker missing out because of a hamstring strain. It provided an opportunity for Watt to lead the line, the youngster supported by Kris Commons in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Watt was provided with his first sight of goal in the 22nd minute. Victor Wanyama surged forward through the congested midfield, finding Commons in space on the right. His cross found Watt at the far post but he was unable to get his header on target.
Any outburst of effective passing football usually came from Celtic, who manufactured a decent move through Adam Matthews and Brown down the right to send Commons racing into the penalty area. But United full-back Barry Douglas managed to get across and take the sting out of Commons’ shot which was comfortably held by Cierzniak.
The home team were scarcely evident as an attacking force in the first-half. Their first real attempt at goal came in the 36th minute but Stuart Armstrong’s shot on the turn from 22 yards did not call Fraser Forster into action.
Celtic finished the first half in the ascendancy, if hardly at their best, with Brown coming close to a breakthrough on a couple of occasions. He saw a snapshot from a Commons’ corner blocked by Richie Ryan, then contorted himself to head a Charlie Mulgrew cross just wide of Cierzniak’s right-hand post.
Mercifully, the second-half delivered more in the way of goalmouth incident and entertainment. Celtic were forced into a second change when Emilio Izaguirre pulled up after firing a shot just wide after a neat exchange with Watt. He was replaced by Venezuelan striker Fedor, Celtic shuffling their pack as Commons dropped into midfield and Mulgrew moved to left-back.
United were more competitive now, Jonny Russell blazing a good chance over the top after Forster had spilled a Willo Flood shot and then Gavin Gunning missing from close range after being found by a Douglas free-kick.
But it was Celtic who finally made the breakthrough in the 69th minute. It was a sweet moment for Fedor, known by his nickname “Miku”. On a season-long loan from Getafe, he claimed his first Celtic goal in his seventh outing. It was a fine team goal, Ambrose and Wanyama combining with Watt to set up the chance which Fedor finished smartly with a left-foot shot beyond Cierzniak.
The game looked to be up for United when Celtic made it 2-0 with ten minutes remaining. A poor clearance by Cierzniak was seized upon by Watt, who shrugged off John Rankin’s challenge and buried a great right-foot shot past the Polish goalkeeper.
But then came United’s amazing act of escapology. Substitutes Rudi Skacel and Mackay-Steven combined to make it 2-1, the former’s shot blocked by
Kelvin Wilson and rebounding into the path of the latter who drove a left-foot shot high into the net.
Sensing an unlikely point could be salvaged, United’s last chance seemed to have gone when Russell dragged a shot wide. But Celtic failed to heed the warning and when Douglas swung over a dangerous cross from the left, Amrbrose met it to head a spectacular own goal beyond the bewildered Forster.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Dillon, Gunning, Douglas; Flood, Ryan (Mackay-Steven 64), Rankin, Armstrong (Skacel 73); Daly, Russell (Millar 90). Subs not used: Banks, McLean, Gardyne, Dow.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Wilson, Rogne (Ambrose 20), Izaguirre (Fedor 49); Brown, Wanyama, Ledley, Mulgrew; Commons (McCourt 82); Watt. Subs not used: Zaluska, Lustig, Kayal, Ibrahim.