Celtic 0 - 0 Dundee: Frustrating night for Deila’s men

Charlie Mulgrew after missing a chance for the hosts. Picture: SNS
Charlie Mulgrew after missing a chance for the hosts. Picture: SNS
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The apparent determination of Ronny Deila’s Celtic side to make the retention of their Premiership title as difficult as possible is starting to appear positively masochistic.

The Scottish champions were subjected to a barrage of jeers from their own supporters as they stumbled to a goalless draw against a Dundee side without a host of first team regulars.

It was yet another desperately lifeless and unconvincing home display from Celtic, the kind which has become all too familiar under Deila’s guidance this season.

It has reduced their lead over Aberdeen at the top of the table to four points in a title race which remains very much alive with 10 games of the campaign remaining.

It was a valuable and perhaps surprising point for Dundee manager Paul Hartley who, despite the prospect of securing a Dundee top four finish in the top flight since their title-winning era of the 1960s, made it plain where his priorities lie this week.

With the Scottish Cup quarter-final against Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday very much top of his agenda, his key trio of Gary Harkins, Greg Stewart and top scorer Kane Hemmings were on the bench, while Cammy Kerr and Craig Wighton were handed rare starting appearances.

The changes Deila made to the Celtic line-up were more a reflection of the depth of his first team squad, especially in the midfield department. Charlie Mulgrew and Tom Rogic returned, while there was a first start for on-loan Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts.

The 19-year-old, who whetted the appetite of the Celtic fans for his skill and trickery when he made an eye-catching substitute outing against Inverness ten days earlier, was the most prominent home player in a largely forgettable first half.

It took just three minutes for Roberts to embark on a thrusting and weaving run into the heart of the Dundee penalty area where he was denied a clear shot on goal by some alert defending from Julen Extabeguren.

But to the frustration of a notably sparse home attendance, that piece of action did not succeed in setting the tone for Celtic’s performance.

They were subdued effectively and often with considerable comfort by a Dundee side adhering diligently to the strategy set out by Hartley.

Roberts did manage to unlock the visitors’ defence with a cute lofted pass across the penalty area in the 19th minute, picking out Leigh Griffiths whose first time left foot shot fizzed narrowly wide.

Celtic’s attacking efforts generally lacked penetration, however, and it required a set piece for them to force Scott Bain into his first serious save of the evening. The Dundee ‘keeper scrambled low to his left, less than convincingly, to divert Mulgrew’s free-kick wide.

Rogic was next to test Bain who proved far more decisive on this occasion as he kept out the Australian international’s sharp shot on the turn after Dundee had struggled to clear a Stuart Armstrong free-kick.

Bain was then fortunate to escape a dreadful blunder unscathed when he missed a through ball with a fresh air swipe of his boot, allowing Griffiths what appeared an open goal. But Celtic’s top scorer lacked his customary deadliness, however, as he was crowded out by the covering duo of Paul McGinn and Etxabeguren.

Apart from a Nicky Low free-kick which dipped just over Craig Gordon’s crossbar, Dundee offered little as an attacking force in the first half. But they almost snatched an opener just before the interval when Wighton embarked on a superb slaloming run into the Celtic penalty area, only to drag his shot wide.

Deila made a change at the start of the second half, replacing Armstrong with James Forrest. The announcement of the winger’s name was greeted with jeers from some of the home support, a reaction to his recent rejection of Celtic’s offer of a new four-year contract.

The injection of Forrest’s pace and directness made little immediate impact on Celtic’s play as Dundee continued to put up robust resistance. Hartley’s men also continued to pose an occasional threat on the break with Wighton finding space to drive in a shot on the turn which was held by Gordon.

Colin Kazim-Richards entered the fray at the expense of Rogic as Deila switched to a 4-4-2 formation in a bid to give his side greater potency. But Hartley was now clearly sensing the possibility of plundering all three points as he sent on Hemmings, Harkins and Stewart in quick succession as the match entered the closing stages.

Roberts had been much quieter in the second half but he burst into life with a run and cutback to tee up Mulgrew for a shot kept out by Bain’s exceptional one-handed save.

But Dundee’s ambition was no longer restricted to maintaining the stalemate and they should have gone ahead in the 84th minute when defender Kostadin Gadzhalov contrived to send a free header off target from no more than six yards as he met a Stewart corner.

Harkins then slashed a shot wide in stoppage time as Dundee ended the night on the front foot, prompting a crescendo of boos when the final whistle blew.

Celtic: Gordon, Lustig (Commons 80), Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Mulgrew; Roberts, Rogic (Kazim-Richards 61), Armstrong (Forrest 46); Griffiths. Subs not used: Bailly, Ambrose, Allan, McGregor.

Dundee: Bain, McGinn, Etxabeguren, Gadzhalov, Holt; Kerr, McGowan, Ross, Low (Harkins 70); Wighton (Stewart 76), Loy (Hemmings 68). Subs not used: Mitchell, Meggatt, Arturo, Black.