After the exertions of Wednesday night, when Celtic held their own against the world-class players of Manchester City, the trip to Tayside always had scope to be something of a letdown. The hangover from European nights has proved an issue in the past, but aided by a Dundee side that mustered little attacking threat, the Glasgow team were able to fire up the tired limbs and not only extend their unbeaten start to the league campaign but also earn their first Premiership clean sheet.
The ability not to have their head turned by mixing it with Europe’s elite is something Parkhead boss Brendan Rodgers said he had been keen to address. Having dropped points against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on the back of the first Champions League group match, he had laid down a gauntlet for his players and yesterday they proved they were up to the challenge.
Describing the comfortable 1-0 victory as “a very, very well done job”, he added: “After Inverness I said to the players ‘OK, sometimes you draw a game you should win’ but this week we’ve shown all the attributes this team has. The attacking intent, the aggression in our defending and even after all the exertion in midweek, the players again pressed the game.
“Dundee are a nice little side, they can open teams up but today we didn’t let them have any rhythm and forced them back.”
In truth, this Dundee side will find it hard to open up too many teams. Eight goals from their opening eight league fixtures is not the kind of return they have been used to. But, minus key men from last season, they will have to find a way of engineering more cut at the end of the thrust than they managed in this one if they are to edge their way back up the standings. Behind that strikeforce there is a decent side, and defensively they did not allow Celtic to overrun them or overwhelm them.
Rodgers admitted that some of the sharpness associated with a side that has made a bit of a habit of banging four, five and even six goals past their league opposition was lacking, the dynamic running a big ask for a side who had ploughed so much energy into their midweek contest.
“They are very tired – they’re not robots. We have a super level of fitness, and if we didn’t, we couldn’t have come through this. What the players have given is huge and they’re getting their rewards.
“We controlled the game very well though, and one goal was enough.”
It was and it was only a matter of when it would arrive. Dundee tried to get men back behind the ball and squeeze the game but the truth was that for long periods they were penned into their own half, fighting fires as Scott Brown produced a masterclass in midfield, pulling the strings, dropping deep to pick up the ball from his defence and then driving forward with purpose.
Around him the effort was evident, but things didn’t click for the likes of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair, who was eventually substituted with five minutes remaining, his hopes of pushing his way into the club’s record books quashed. But in Brown they had a leader and a winner.
The captain found the net two minutes into the second half after Dembele had been robbed of possession as he was shaping up to shoot, but the blocked effort found its way to the inrushing Brown, who skelped a left foot drive into the goal.
It was his second goal of the season and it left Dundee down and out. Their third straight defeat leaves them teetering uncomfortably close to the relegation zone, although manager Paul Hartley was clinging to the positives.
“Our organisation and discipline was good, being brave in playing two up and trying to play a high pressing game against them. They never really cut us open. They had a lot of possession, as they do in games. But they’ve been beating teams scoring five and six so I felt we were always in the game.
‘We have got to be like that until the end of the season. We’ve stressed last week how important it was to start picking points up. But we’ve got to try and find goals from somewhere, we don’t have a magic wand in that we can’t do anything until January.”