Dundee pushed Celtic all the way before going down 2-1 in Glasgow this afternoon. Leigh Griffiths deservedly put Celtic ahead in first half injury time and Nir Bitton made it two early in the second half. The match looked beyond the Dee but after Marcus Haber pulled a goal back Dundee might have snatched a point in the last half hour during which they matched Celtic.
Dundee had two changes, both in midfield. James Vincent and Danny Williams started instead of the suspended Paul McGowan and youngster Jesse Curran, who was on the bench. Celtic made five changes. Christian Gamboa, Emilio Izaguirre, Nir Bitton, Gary Mackay-Steven and Ryan Christie came in for Mikael Lustig, Darren McGregor, Scott Brown, Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembele.
The Dark Blues managed to keep Celtic away from Scott Bain’s goal for the first few minutes, but soon the Hoops were attacking in waves. Dundee were being pushed back and forced to defend in depth, but for the most part they did so with composure. Celtic tried repeatedly to play their way round Dundee’s wing backs, and did manage to work their way into dangerous positions a few times during the first half, but Dark Blue defenders were always able to reach the final ball first.
Dundee had an escape after 10 minutes when Leigh Griffiths cleverly swapped passes with Tom Rogic before dinking the ball past Bain and against the post. Bain then had to beat away a curling 20 yarder from Stuart Armstrong as Celtic cranked up the pressure.
Marcus Haber was usually left isolated as the Dee sat deep. It was hard for Dundee to break out of defence, and they struggled to hold onto the ball against Celtic’s pressing when they tried to move forward.
The Dark Blues had a more promising little spell in the middle of the first half. Tom Hateley was involved every time the Dee managed to build a move. After Celtic were casual in clearing a free kick he seized possession and drove a shot narrowly over the bar from 18 yards. Kevin Holt went equally close with a shot from similar distance, but his effort drifted just past the far post with keeper Craig Gordon at full stretch.
The last 15 minutes of the first half were spent almost entirely in Dundee’s half. Tom Rogic jinked into the penalty area before trying to bend his shot round Bain, who grabbed the ball at the second attempt. James Vincent almost scored what would have been an extremely unlucky own goal when Kosta Gadzhalov crashed a clearance against him and the ball ricocheted inches wide of the post.
As the first half entered injury time Darren O’Dea fouled Tom Rogic 30 yards from goal in a position that looked ideal for the left foot of a certain ex-Dee. Sure enough Leigh GRIFFITHS stepped up to score with a sweetly struck shot over the wall that dipped just inside Bain’s left hand post. There was barely time for Dundee to kick off before the half time whistle sounded, but there could be no begrudging Celtic a half time lead; they had been clearly the better side.
The second half started in similar fashion and it looked like being a long afternoon for the travelling supporters. Celtic kept trying to work their way round Dundee’s wing backs and twice they managed to spring Emilio Izaguirre free. The first time Kevin Holt managed to head clear, almost from under his crossbar. The second time the ball was scrambled clear only as far as Nir BITTON, 20 yards out, and he had space to send a curling shot around Bain for Celtic’s second.
With more than half an hour to go the outlook was bleak for the Dee. The Celtic fans were settling back waiting to be entertained as the Hoops put the Dark Blues to the sword. It certainly didn’t pan out that way. Dundee dug deep and competed more than effectively for the rest of the game.
After 63 minutes Mark O’Hara came on for Danny Williams, but playing a more central and attacking role. The Dark Blues were transformed and should have quickly pulled a goal back. Kevin Holt’s dangerous low cross was scrambled clear for a corner. Tom Hateley swung the ball over to the far post where Marcus Haber headed against the post. Craig Wighton pounced on the rebound but didn’t make a true enough connection with his shot and Stuart Armstrong cleared off the line.
Dundee’s goal was delayed only a couple of minutes longer. O’Hara ran through the midfield and hit a fine pass over the defence to Marcus HABER coming in from the left. The Canadian striker checked inside Christian Gamboa and his 12 yard shot took a deflection that left Gordon helpless. As the ball sailed into the net the small Dundee support celebrated, enjoying the delightful sound of silence from the rest of the ground.
The Dark Blues were now pressing Celtic higher up the field and enjoying success from doing so. Celtic had lost a lot of their zip and were no longer pressing Dundee into losing possession, almost as if they had thought that the game had been won and they only had to charge forward to score more goals. Haber harried Bitton into losing the ball deep in the Celtic half, allowing Hateley to find O’Hara with a clever backheel. The substitute tried to curl his shot round Gordon from 18 yards, but the Celtic keeper saved comfortably.
Faissal El Bakhtaoui replaced Tom Hateley for the last few minutes and should have equalised a minute from the end of normal time. Marcus Haber tried to burst through on goal on the end of an El Bakhtaoui pass and was tackled on the edge of the penaly area. El Bakhtaoui raced onto the loose ball and was clear, but from 12 yards he slipped his shot over the bar. That was the final chance of the match and a game that at one point had seemed out of Dundee’s reach ended with the Dark Blues battling for an equaliser and Celtic happy to hear the final whistle.
Celtic are by far the best team in Scotland these days and the Dundee players can take some satisfaction from giving them a tough game at their own ground. The defence in particular did very well and put in some excellent penalty box defending. The two goals that won the points for Celtic were well struck efforts from outside the penalty area. Once Dundee managed to press Celtic into mistakes and get forward to support Marcus Haber they did very well and clearly unsettled their hosts. A defeat is always disappointing, but this performance by the Dark Blues was a solid and respectable performance against the team that is threatening to run away with the Premiership title.
Gamboa, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre
Bitton, Armstrong (c)
Mackay-Steven (Sinclair 67), Rogic (McGregor, half time), Christie
Griffiths (Dembele 78)
Unused subs: de Vries (gk), Touré, Lustig, Roberts.
Goals: Griffiths (45+2), Bitton (56).
Booked: Simunovic (foul on O’Hara).
Dundee FC 5-4-1
Kerr, Gomis, Gadzhalov, O’Dea (c), Holt
Wighton, Hateley (El Bakhtaoui 86), Vincent, Williams (O’Hara 63)
Unused subs: Mitchell (gk), Loy, Etxabeguren, Ross, Curran.
Goal: Haber (68).
Booked: O’Dea (foul on Rogic).
Attendance: to be announced.
Referee: Bobby Madden. Assistants: Kylie McMullan, Gary Hilland. 4th official: Gavin Ross.
Report: James Christie.