Critics ‘were wrong’ to write off Celtic skipper Scott Brown

Celtic's Scott Brown battles for the ball with Dundee's Yordi Teijsse. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
Celtic's Scott Brown battles for the ball with Dundee's Yordi Teijsse. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
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This is the fixture they were at one stage planning to relocate to the United States this season. But with just one goal in the last three games between these two sides, those behind this increasingly unlikely looking venture will surely need to think again.

Certainly few in Philadelphia, or wherever else in America is being touted to host the clash, would be roused by such an exercise in damage limitation on Dundee’s part and the pragmatic ‘doing just enough to win’ objective on Celtic’s.

Dundee manager Paul Hartley. Picture: SNS

Dundee manager Paul Hartley. Picture: SNS

Both these game plans were understandable; Celtic were still recovering from the exertions of a 3-3 Champions League thriller with Manchester City in midweek. “Of course we were tired,” said manager Brendan Rodgers afterwards.

Dundee manager Paul Hartley, meanwhile, took note of Celtic’s goalscoring form – 11 in their previous three outings, 24 in the league already this season. He altered his team accordingly, playing a three centre-backs system he is set to stick with as Dundee’s plight becomes more worrying with each passing week.

Now lying tenth, they face successive tricky away assignments at Tynecastle and McDiarmid Park following the international break.

Their problems lie specifically up front, hardly surprising considering the identity of their summer departures – top scorers Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart, combined with chief playmaker Gary Harkins.

Hartley was right to express satisfaction with how his defence coped against a front line which, at one stage towards the end, consisted of Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts.

But it was the influential Scott Brown who emerged as the match winner with a goal shortly after half-time. Dundee were still congratulating themselves after keeping Celtic out for another 45 minutes to add to successive clean sheets against the champions at the tail-end of last season when the midfielder swept home a loose ball after Dembele’s penetrating run.

It was fortunate Scotland manager Gordon Strachan was elsewhere on Saturday. Had he been he present at Dens it would have been dismaying experience. Brown put in another strong showing weeks after retiring from the international scene and prior to the vital forth­coming double header against Lithuania and Slovakia.

Rodgers wore the look of a satisfied man at the end, understandably since Strachan’s loss is his gain. But Hartley, who once partnered Brown in Celtic’s midfield, also added to the chorus of praise for the 31-year-old afterwards.

“I thought people were wrong to write him off,” he said. “People tend to do that. Scott is a terrific boy and a fantastic leader. I spoke to him after the game and told him he’s playing as well as ever.

“He got the goal against us, which we were disappointed to lose, but it shows you how he’s playing.

“I saw him in midweek, against a top, top team [Manchester City], then he produces it against us as well.

“You know what the Scott Brown of old was like. When he signed for Celtic, he was full of energy. But he looks like he’s brought a new dimension to his game on the ball. You can see improvement there. I think you always mature.”

Hartley’s international experience was very different to Brown’s. He was late to blossom and only made the first of 25 international caps aged 29. Brown, meanwhile, has amassed 50.

According to the Dundee manager, he’s right to quit. “You want to keep playing at the top ­level and play as many [internationals] as you can,” said Hartley. “But Scott has had a few injuries over recent years. If you look at the toll that travelling with Scotland can take on you as well he’s obviously decided to concentrate on his club.”

Nir Bitton knows well the exacting nature of playing international football; the Israel midfielder is preparing for games in Macedonia and then Tel Aviv in the coming days.

“Scott took his decision about Scotland, he knows his body and if that’s what he’s decided to do then that will be the best thing for him,” said Bitton. “At the end of the day, Celtic is the bread and butter for him – and all of us – so he’s made that decision for the team.”

Paul McGowan, meanwhile, rejected the fears of those who believe Dundee are preparing for a relegation fight after just one win in their opening eight league games.

“I wouldn’t say it was a major concern,” said the midfielder. “It would be a major concern if it was 25 games into the season. We had a good start but we haven’t picked up since then.”

He remarked the team were “still trying to find our identity” after the departure of key men during the summer. “New players have come in and will take them time to find their feet.”

Not so Kevin Gomis, who was tremendous at centre-half in only his third game after arriving in August. Something else left an impression at Dens on Saturday: a minute’s applause for Alan Cousin, who was a member of Dundee’s championship winning team of 1962.

The forward passed away last month and the sustained ovation, which lasted far longer than the stated minute and came from all sides of the ground, was a fitting tribute to a player who scored 141 goals for Dundee.

How the current side could do with someone like him now.