Celtic 0 - 0 Dundee: Steven Caulker proves his worth

Time will tell just how valuable this hard-earned point Dundee gained at the home of the champions-elect will prove to be but the wisdom of their decision to hold onto the services of Steven Caulker was clear to see.

Dundee's impressive Steven Caulker challenges Celtic's Scott Sinclair. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Dundee's impressive Steven Caulker challenges Celtic's Scott Sinclair. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

The former England defender, subject of a bid from Rosenborg last week, was immense at the heart of a gutsy display from Neil McCann’s side, earning them a result which leaves them five points ahead of relegation rivals Ross County and Partick Thistle.

It was also an outcome which further complicates the timing of Celtic’s coronation as Premiership winners, something the post-split SPFL fixture planners will doubtless be cursing under their breath.

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It was a far from vintage night from Brendan Rodgers’ side who managed 25 attempts at goal but lacked a cutting edge.

With the finishing line in their pursuit of a seventh successive title coming into sharper focus, Celtic certainly began the match with the purpose of a side determined to breast the tape as quickly as possible.

Aberdeen’s win at Motherwell on Tuesday night ensured the champions would have to wait until the post-split fixtures to get there but it is simply a case of delaying the inevitable.

Celtic’s efforts to impose themselves on Dundee from the get-go saw visiting keeper Elliot Parish called into action as early as the third minute when he did well to keep out a shot from James Forrest after the winger had sliced his way into the area via a slick exchange of passes with Moussa Dembele.

The early tempo of Celtic’s play was dictated by captain Scott Brown who was next to threaten with a shot from 20 yards which Parish was relieved to see fly just over his crossbar with the aid of a slight deflection.

It had all the makings of a torrid night for Dundee at this stage but McCann’s men composed themselves and gradually played their way into the contest.

Craig Gordon, making his 200th appearance for Celtic as he returned from a two-month injury lay-off, showed his reflexes had not been dulled in his absence when he made a fine save in the 11th minute to touch over Simon Murray’s rising shot from just outside the area.

It sparked a more encouraging period for the visiting support who had among their number Fabian Caballero, two-goal hero of their last win at Celtic Park back in May 2001 who is back in the country for a dinner in his honour this weekend.

But Dundee’s prospects of ending that 17-year wait for another win in the east end of Glasgow almost suffered a self-inflicted wound in the 26th minute. An unforced error from Kevin Holt was pounced upon by Forrest who surged into the area to be denied by another sharp save from Parish. From the resulting corner, taken by Stuart Armstrong, Celtic came close again. Dedryck Boyata should have done better when he met it with a firm header but he sent it wide with Scott Sinclair unable to redirect it goalwards from close range.

But it was Dundee who came closest to making a breakthrough before the interval. In first-half stoppage time, Genseric Kusunga’s pass sent Roarie Deacon racing through the middle. The outstretched leg of Boyata prevented Deacon getting a shot away but the ball ricocheted towards goal. With Gordon beaten, the ball struck his post and rolled across the line before being cleared by Jack Hendry.

Celtic’s response to that moment of alarm was to increase the intensity of their work on the front foot as they reasserted control of possession and territory after the break. Dundee were resolute but increasingly under strain as openings started to come for the hosts with greater regularity. Armstrong might have done better than sidefoot a shot wide from Callum McGregor’s cutback, but he was unfortunate not to find the net with his next effort, a skidding, low strike from 22 yards which had Parish scrambling to his right to make another fine save. Tom Rogic then set up a highly presentable chance for Sinclair but the winger’s tame effort lacked the kind of conviction which came as second nature to him last season, this time presenting Parish with a simple stop.

Celtic’s increasing frustration at their failure to find a way through saw Rodgers making the rare choice of a triple substitution shortly after the hour mark. Dembele, Sinclair and Rogic all made way as Leigh Griffiths, Odsonne Edouard and Olivier Ntcham made their entrances.

Dundee were forced to defend much deeper as the minutes ticked by and were relieved to see Edouard scuff a shot narrowly wide from close range as the pressure increased. The home fans were unimpressed by the visitors’ efforts to slow the game down and waste precious seconds whenever possible but the approach was wholly understandable in the circumstances.

There was almost a cruel twist in the tale for Dundee when their former player Hendry rose highest to get on the end of a Griffiths free-kick but his header drifted agonisingly wide.

Perhaps the only Celtic player who could take any satisfaction from the evening was the returning Gordon who notched up his 100th clean sheet for the club.