NEIL Lennon hailed his goalkeeper Fraser Forster as he helped earn Celtic a fifth successive league win against struggling Dundee last night.
On an evening when Celtic had almost complete control in the first-half, Forster’s memorable contribution had been unexpected.
However, he kept his side in front when saving Colin Nish’s close-range header five minutes into the second-half. Georgios Samaras had earlier put the visitors in front with a well-executed overhead kick.
Gary Hooper ensured Celtic extended their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to seven points with a superb chip after 71 minutes. Dundee are now nine points adrift at the bottom of the league and are looking increasingly in peril, although their second half revival gave manager Barry Smith something to cling to last night.
“I think he is great keeper anyway,” said Lennon, when asked if Forster’s save – after a long spell of inactivity in the first-half – was a mark of a great keeper. “We have seen it times and time again. He got a big hand to the ball, and we were able to clear it. That could have changed the game but thankfully we were a able to keep a clean sheet and we go on to win the game with a superb individual goal from Hooper.”
There was a note of controversy at the end of the first-half when Celtic defender Kelvin Wilson looked to strike Dundee forward John Baird in the face with his elbow.
However, this was played down by Baird himself afterwards, who said he thought it has been “accidental” fling of the arm from Wilson. Baird admitted to having pulled Wilson in the first place. Lennon, too, defended his centre-half afterwards, after television pictures had appeared to suggest the player had been fortunate to escape a red card.
“What he is saying [to me] is that the boy [Baird] held his arm and he basically pushed his hand away,” said Lennon. “Baird was nipping away all night and barging into them and leaving things on. If Kelvin has been deemed in retrospect to have done anything, we will deal with it. But Kelvin has been a model pro since he walked in. It’s not like him. If it does look bad I am pretty sure it is not deliberate.”
In the SPL’s other Boxing Day matches, second-placed Inverness fought back twice to avert a defeat against St Mirren. Dougie Imrie put the visitors in front in the second minute before Andrew Shinnie levelled in the 38th minute. Stephen Thompson restored Saints’ advantage 10 minutes after half-time but Richie Foran was on hand to save a point and a 2-2 draw for Caley in the 67th minute.
Motherwell produced a ruthless attacking display to defeat rivals Aberdeen 4-1 at Fir Park and go level on points with Inverness on 33 points. Tom Hateley headed home Jamie Murphy’s cross after 10 minutes and Murphy himself doubled the advantage on the half-hour mark before Jonny Hayes made it 2-1. Murphy notched his 10th goal of the season on the stroke of half-time to provide a timely boost for Well and Michael Higdon added a fourth 10 minutes into the second half.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall said: “I decided to match them and play three forwards up against their three centre-backs and I think with Murphy’s two goals, one for Higgy [Higdon] and Henrik [Ojamaa]’s performance too it worked
“It can be a dangerous game, but you have to have faith in your defenders and that your frontmen can do more damage to them than they can to you.”
Strugglers Ross County upset Hibernian with a 1-0 away win. Richard Brittain was the match-winner with a 57th-minute effort.
Kilmarnock also claimed three points with the only goal of the game in their clash with Hearts. Liam Kelly was their goalscorer with a penalty after 27 minutes.
Dundee United and St Johnstone shared the spoils with a 1-1 draw. Gavin Gunning put United ahead after only two minutes’ play but St Johnstone earned a point courtesy of Brian McLean’s own-goal two minutes after half-time.