JOHN Guidetti’s bargaining position strengthens by the week. As efforts continue to secure him on a permanent basis, the player on loan from Manchester City underlined his value to the Scottish champions yesterday with a goal that put the game out of Dundee’s reach.
Not only did the Swede’s strike, his tenth in ten starts, add a few more pounds to the salary demanded by his representatives, it papered over the cracks of a Celtic performance that will have to be improved upon if they are to have any chance of beating Salzburg in the Europa League this week.
They were more than a little relieved by the Anthony Stokes goal that gave them a half-time lead, and when Guidetti, right, added a second shortly after the interval, they still contrived to let their opponents back into it. David Clarkson set up a nervy finish for the home side by becoming the first player in Dundee’s history to score in each of his first seven matches.
Ronny Deila, the Celtic manager, admitted that it had been a poor show by his players. Kris Commons made his first appearance since early October and it was another valuable step in the rehabilitation of James Forrest, but they missed the energy of Scott Brown, their suspended captain.
“Of course, he is very important for the team, but that’s no excuse,” said Deila. “We have national team players all over the pitch. We have good competition in the team. It’s hard to criticise when you are winning, but you also need to see behind it. We need to improve on Thursday.
“It’s about mentality. When we go 2-0 up, we should just attack them and go at them for three or four. I can’t understand why we are dropping. It should give us energy to push on.”
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It was Celtic’s fifth successive league victory, but Dundee emerged with all the credit. Paul Hartley, returning to his former club for the first time as a manager, was frustrated that his team did not earn a point to go with the one they secured against Celtic in August.
“We kept the Celtic crowd quiet and we played some good football,” said Hartley. “We know they will probably win the league, but we have shown in our two games against them that we are not a bad team to watch.”
Dundee came here to play. With Paul McGowan and Greg Stewart on either side of him, and Clarkson ahead, Gary Harkins was at the centre of a fluid front four who zipped the ball about with confidence.
Not only did they help themselves to a glut of chances in a refreshingly open first half, they played most of the football, nicking it behind their opponents in neat triangles that really ought to have produced a goal, if not two, in the first five minutes.
When McGowan stabbed a loose ball into the box, Stewart should have done better than slap it over the bar. Then, when Craig Gordon advanced to stop a low shot with his legs, Clarkson chipped it over the stranded goalkeeper. Only Virgil van Dijk’s header kept it out of the net.
Only Forrest, in his second start since returning from injury, was dangerous for the hosts. His threaded ball through the middle set up Guidetti, but Scott Bain was out quickly to block.
The Dees stuck to their principles and came again. When Clarkson returned Harkins’ corner across the face of goal, Thomas Konrad was unable to keep his header down. Gary Irvine hooked one over from close range, and Stewart – after an ambitious run from deep – saw his shot deflected wide.
Had Dundee reached the interval on level terms, Hartley would have been frustrated, so you can imagine how he felt when they fell behind on the stroke of half-time. Forrest earned the free kick, Commons whipped it in and Stokes flashed a header inside the near post.
Efe Ambrose replaced the injured Jason Denayer at the start of the second half. The defender, on loan from Manchester City, later underwent a precautionary X-ray, but was expected to be fit for the Salzburg match. “I don’t think it’s more than a hard tackle, no twisting,” said Deila.
Nine minutes later Celtic were two up. Forrest skidded a ball through to the overlapping Adam Matthews, whose low cross was swept across the line by Guidetti.
It said a lot about Dundee that even this second setback failed to stop them playing. James McPake appeared to have pulled one back when he headed in Harkins’ free kick, but the assistant linesman signalled for offside. Then they did halve the deficit. When Matthews appeared to handle in the box, there were claims for a penalty, but Clarkson had the presence of mind to take advantage by forcing his shot into the net from 12 yards.
Hartley is delighted that, while other clubs hesitated, Dundee pushed the boat out to sign Clarkson, a free agent, in September. “He has been a terrific find for us. He keeps scoring goals which is a hard thing to come by. We have got him till the end of the season, but I want to keep him longer.”
Celtic: Gordon, Matthews, Denayer (Ambrose 45), van Dijk, Izaguirre, Mulgrew, Johansen, Forrest (McGregor 78), Commons (Kayal 59), Stokes, Guidetti. Subs not used: Zaluska, Biton, Scepovic, Berget. Booked: van Dijk, Kayal. Goals: Stokes 45; Guidetti 54.
Dundee: Bain, McGinn, Konrad, McPake, Irvine, McAlister, Thomson (Ferry 73), McGowan, Harkins (Tankulic 81), Stewart (Boyle 69), Clarkson. Subs not used: Schenk, McBride, Dyer, Roberts. Booked: McGowan. Goals: Clarkson 58.
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