Celtic 2 - 0 Dunfermline: Sweet 16th as Celtic stretch SPL lead to 20 points
CELTIC maintained their serene progress to a now inevitable first championship triumph in four years as they racked up their 16th consecutive SPL victory with the minimum of fuss against bottom of the table Dunfermline.
Neil Lennon’s men stretched the yawning gap between themselves and stricken title holders Rangers to 20 points as the possibility of them crossing the finishing line when they visit Ibrox next month remains very much alive.
Charlie Mulgrew, named in the Scotland squad for the first time this week, had further cause to celebrate as his magnificent long-range strike gave Celtic a first-half lead which they eventually doubled courtesy of substitute James Forrest’s ninth goal of the season in the 75th minute.
Although Dunfermline carried a sporadic threat in between those goals, Celtic’s control of proceedings was generally close to absolute and they failed to convert a host of chances to put a more realistic reflection on the difference between the sides.
Celtic’s first home game since the descent into administration of Rangers was played against a predictably gleeful backdrop as the Parkhead supporters took the opportunity to revel in the ongoing drama at their ailing rivals.
Along with the now familiar chants declaring their intention to party in the event of Rangers’ demise, there was one elaborate banner which advised alternative uses for Ibrox in that event, among them a tax office.
Amid the gloating, the task for Lennon and his players was to maintain the intensity of focus and sense of purpose which has taken them on such an impressive run of victories. The manager felt comfortable enough to make four changes to the side which had swatted Hibs aside with such ease on Sunday, the depth of his first team squad ensuring it would set no less daunting a task for Dunfermline.
Ki Sung Yueng, replacing Victor Wanyama in central midfield, appeared keen to remind Lennon of his qualities as he set the tempo and direction of the game with some eye-catching work. The South Korean international can often look almost too elegant in an SPL where the emphasis is so often on the more physical and workmanlike aspects of the game.
But Ki’s undoubted technical excellence shone last night as Celtic dominated territory and possession for lengthy spells. He was the first to test Chris Smith, the Dunfermline goalkeeper whose confidence must be fragile after a series of wretched blunders in recent weeks.
Smith certainly looked less than convincing as he failed to hold Ki’s speculative 30 yard drive but no Celtic forward was close enough to take advantage. Another effort from Ki then broke into the path of Gary Hooper but Celtic’s leading scorer was denied a clear chance by Alex Keddie’s alert intervention.
Dunfermline did threaten briefly on the counter attack, Joe Cardle sprinting away down the right after a corner for the home side was cleared. Cardle found Liam Buchanan but before Dunfermline’s lone front man could pick out Kyle Hutton, who had made a lung-bursting run into penalty area, he was dispossessed by Cha Du Ri’s tremendous covering tackle.
Celtic quickly got back onto the front foot and looked certain to take a 19th minute lead when Anthony Stokes sent Hooper racing clear with a terrific pass. The Englishman seemed odds-on to triumph in his one-on-one with Smith but the goalkeeper got a touch on his low shot to divert it narrowly wide of the target.
When the breakthrough strike finally came in the 33rd minute, it was spectacular and unexpected. There seemed little danger to Dunfermline when Ki fed the ball infield to Mulgrew who had advanced from his central defensive beat over the halfway line. But a couple of strides later, Mulgrew unleashed a ferocious left foot shot from all of 35 yards which soared over the startled Smith and into the roof of the net.
Stokes should have subdued any prospect of a Dunfermline recovery five minutes into the second half when he was presented with the simplest of opportunities by a fine Celtic move. Ki and Emilio Izaguirre combined on the left to find Hooper in the box and his header back across goal found Stokes unmarked in front of a gaping target. With the goalkeeper stranded, Stokes astonishingly managed to drive his low shot from around six yards wide.
But the sense remained that it was inevitable Celtic would score again and so it proved 15 minutes from time. Forrest, who had replaced the tiring Izaguirre, timed his back post run perfectly to stab home Hooper’s low right wing cross from close range.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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