Celtic fans right to be praised: Brendan Rodgers shows his gratitude, debatable penalty, what would life be like without Kyogo
It had been a little too one-paced for the home fans’ liking before this belated burst of dynamism. Still, they kept their feelings to themselves for the most part.
Kyogo Furuhashi helped save the day, as he so often does. He disappeared down the tunnel after 17 minutes with his left arm hanging limply by his side. An innocuous incident had aggravated this old vulnerability, which might conceivably be the player’s sole weakness. He can strike a sweet half-volley, as he demonstrated against Rangers two weeks ago. And as exhibited here, he can head the ball like Alan Gilzean as well as turn goal-provider. But that shoulder problem of his must keep Celtic fans awake at night. He is integral to their success.
For some brief moments on Saturday it looked like Kyogo might be facing a long spell on the sidelines, which felt potentially ruinous for Celtic as well as Brendan Rodgers. Mercifully for those whose fate hinges on his welfare, the striker's shoulder clicked back into its socket and Celtic clicked into gear – eventually. Rodgers joined his players for a lap of honour at the end. All’s well that ends well and there are bigger battles to come starting in midweek, although this was a far tougher test than the scoreline might suggest.
The manager made a point of praising the supporters afterwards. He is a seasoned Old Firm campaigner. He knows how quickly fans can turn, and he saw it from the opposite dugout at Ibrox two weekends ago after Celtic’s 1-0 win. That made life very difficult for manager Michael Beale. Several of the Rangers players were waved away when they sought to acknowledge their own fans afterwards.
Rodgers gave what he described as a “shout out” to the Celtic supporters, explaining that they had stayed with the team despite a sticky first half against Tony Docherty’s well organised – and young – team. Dundee’s front six boasted an average age of just 22. Their midfield three consisted of two 20-year-olds and a 19-year-old. It’s unlikely many Celtic fans were aware of this. Had they been, it's possible they may not have been so forgiving of their side’s struggles in the opening half.
Rodgers was appreciative of the fans’ patience as Celtic sized up their opponents, who were making their first visit to Parkhead since the first game of Mark McGhee's short spell in charge two seasons ago. “They did really well for us,” said Rodgers. “I think they could see what we were trying to do in the first half and we were unlucky not to be in front. But at 0-0 at half-time it could have been a little bit edgy. But they stayed with the team.”
It did seem notable that Parkhead had not erupted in boos when referee Grant Irvine blew his whistle for half-time. There might have been less restraint had Kyogo not been willing to go through the pain barrier for his team. With him still on the park, anything’s possible. Rodgers was tight-lipped about what had gone on in the dressing-room. The shoulder was popped in, is that right, he was asked: “Yes.”
Celtic Park is certainly not for the squeamish these days. Indeed, the atmosphere might have turned ugly had the hosts not benefitted from a debatable penalty decision shortly after half time. David Turnbull was facing away from goal when he was bundled to the ground by Ryan Howley, the 19-year-old midfielder making his full debut for Dundee on loan from Coventry City. The referee initially awarded a foul before upgrading the decision to a penalty on the advice of the VAR team. According to them, the offence had occurred inside the box. Turnbull duly despatched the kick down the centre of Trevor Carson’s goal.
That was a significant moment but perhaps a decisive one came six minutes later when Dundee failed to capitalise on a glorious chance to equalise following a quick break upfield. Fin Robertson might have hit a shot but elected to nudge the ball back to Luke McCowan, a perhaps more reliable scorer. His dinked effort drifted just wide. McCowan had already seen an effort blocked by Joe Hart from point blank range at the end of the first half. Few teams profit from Celtic Park when missing these kinds of opportunities and so it proved.
Celtic duly ran over the top of Dundee and had the game won by the 65th minute. That it was all over was not just signalled by the third goal, from Matt O’Riley, but also by the fact Kyogo was almost immediately replaced by Hyeongyu Oh to huge acclaim. With Dundee now down out and out Tuesday’s date with Feyenoord in the Champions League had begun to occupy Rodgers’ mind.
Celtic had needed a second goal and it came via the head of Kyogo, amid more controversy. Dundee striker Zach Robinson had stayed down on the turf after a challenge but Celtic played on, with Callum McGregor taking advantage of the uncertainty over whether the referee might stop play or not. He flung a deep cross into the box and Kyogo moved expertly into position to beat the offside trap and flick a header beyond Carson.
Aerial prowess isn’t necessarily the first qualify that comes to mind in relation to the little striker, but there won’t have been a better header scored in the land yesterday. And it’s not the first time he has demonstrated this ability. He also assists goals more often than he’s given credit for. He fastened onto a lovely Alistair Johnston ball round the back of the Dundee defence before cutting back for O’Riley to sweep home his third goal of the season.
O'Riley also hit the post in the first half and Celtic were denied by the woodwork twice more after half time. It sounds like an onslaught although it never felt like that. Rodgers was correct to praise the home fans’ forbearance.