It took a while but Celtic got back to winning ways in the quest for ten in a row. Two weeks after they dropped points to Kilmarnock and were then forced to sit out the next two rounds of fixtures thanks to Boli Bolingoli’s disregard for coronavirus protocols, Neil Lennon’s men did what was required to grab all three points at Tannadice.
It took them until the 84th minute to make the necessary breakthrough, though, as Dundee United made life awkward for them.
“Yeah but all teams will,” said the Celtic boss, aware that, as the dominant force in the Scottish game, theirs is a notable scalp to claim.What United didn’t do, though, was simply park the bus and hope to hang on for as long as possible.
“They were well motivated, well organised and well drilled. They were hungry and energetic, all those things. But I felt our players stood up to that very well and basically wore them down.”
They did and while United keeper Benji Siiegrist defied them on multiple occasions, and the men in front of him pretty much limited them to long-range efforts from outside the box, the away side continued to probe for a way past their rivals until they eventually found it.
It took patience and it also took a switch in formation and personnel as the Celtic boss sought out the best formula for success on the day.
Impressed by performances in the midweek Champions League qualifying victory, he brought Olivier Ntcham and Mohamed Elyounoussi into the starting line-up but they made way as the gaffer decided to push two up front – partnering Albian Ajeti with Odsonne Edouard – and brought James Forrest back into the mix to bolster the supply route.
When the goal came it was Ryan Christie, who again tested Siegrist with the initial shot. He had been foiled by the keeper on a couple of previous occasions but this time Ajeti was on hand to pick up the parried save then slam the ball into the net.
Signed this summer, it was the striker’s first goal in his first league appearance, and the only downside is that there were no fans to run to, according to his captain Scott Brown.
“That’s what makes it special. Especially when you score goals, you run, you celebrate with them. For us to get them back would be amazing, whether it’s Sunday or not,” he said of the possible pilot at next weekend’s game against Motherwell.
“He’s scored some great goals in training. It’s just that little bit of movement in the box. When I get up there, I don’t know what to do; there’s a few people like that. But these boys have this natural knack. Him, Odsonne, Griff, they just know how to get the ball into the back of the net. It’s great to have those players.
“We have a lot to thank him for because we couldn’t get the ball in the net against a very well organised Dundee United team.
“But he will score goals for us. That is what we’ve been looking for, that penalty-box striker who will score those tap-ins. He took that goal really, really well.”
After that intervention, it was a case of seeing out the win as Celtic looked to close the gap on Rangers, who have been busy in their absence, and ensure a positive vibe as they head into this week’s Champions League qualifier against Hungarian champions Ferencvaros.
“We’re always going to have big games, always going to have loads of games,” said Brown. “I think we’re Wednesday-Saturday or whatever it is until the end of January.
‘So it’s going to be busy. We have another couple of games before the international break, then we recharge the batteries and go again.”
Not all of them will be as troublesome as United proved.
“ I felt we deserved at least a point,” said Tannadice defender Mark Connolly, who was one of many in tangerine who had a great match.
“There have been a lot of questions asked of us as a team coming up from the Championship and how we would cope. But in my opinion we have proved everyone wrong. If you looked at the game on Saturday we didn’t sit off them too much, we pressed them as much as we could, we made them make mistakes, we put them under pressure.”
United lacked potency in the final third as attacks fizzled out or flashed crosses were not instinctively pounced on. But the fact that Celtic took the ball into corners to see out the game was a compliment to how problematic they had been.
“Listen, that just shows you how well we did. Normally they are going to want to get two, three, four goals,” added Connolly.
“As a football club coming up to the Premiership after four years out of it, we are showing ourselves in a good light.”
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