Champions Celtic took the points in the lunchtime game at Dens Park today, edging out Dundee with a goal by skipper Scott Brown at the start of the second half. The Dark Blues fought hard in a tight competitive game, but couldn’t find the spark they needed to grab a point.
Paul Hartley made three changes from last week’s defeat at Inverness. Mark O’Hara and Kevin Gomis returned from suspension while Danny Williams started after coming on as a substitute last Saturday. Nick Ross and Julen Etxebeguren moved onto the bench and Tom Hateley was injured. The Dee switched from their usual 4-3-2-1 to 3-5-2, with Kevin Holt joining Darren O’Dea and Kevin Gomis in the back line. Celtic’s only change from last Saturday’s win against Kilmarnock was Craig Gordon replacing Dorus De Vries in goal.
Celtic were quickly onto the attack and forcing Dundee back. Tom Rogic had the first shot when his effort from 25 yards following a short free kick was deflected wide. The hard working Dark Blues were pressing Celtic high up the pitch, trying to force errors. Jordi Teijsse and Faissal El Bakhtaoui ran and challenged for everything. This always looked promising because the visitors’ defence was often casual on the ball and liable to take unnecessary chances.
After 13 minutes Scott Bain couldn’t get enough of a touch when he punched Forrest’s dangerous cross, but Scott Sinclair was crowded out before he could take advantage. That was the only slip from Bain in a match in which he was otherwise immaculate. The Dee keeper did well to pluck a Rogic free kick from just inside the angle of bar and post, making the save look easy.
Celtic had ample possession throughout the first half, but struggled to find the final ball that would open up Dundee’s well organised defence. Scott Brown went for the more direct approach, powering through the midfield before hitting a low shot narrowly wide. Aside from that Celtic lacked the sharpness we would normally expect from them, though the Dark Blues’ defence deserved praise for the way they repeatedly foiled the visitors. Dundee’s best moment was when El Bakhtaoui reached the byline with neat skill and dinked a cross to the near post where Teijsse, under pressure, couldn’t get his header on target.
The two big talking points of the first half were incidents in which both teams were relieved that referee Mr Dallas did not have a clear view. Cammy Kerr might have conceded a penalty for a challenge on Erik Sviatchenko, and Moussa Dembele would have been in trouble if an offical had spotted a silly swipe at Kevin Gomis’s head.
In the second minute of the second half another piece of forceful and direct play by Scott Brown created the opening from which Celtic scored the game’s only goal. Brown started the move by running in from the left and switching the ball into the path of Dembele, whose shot was blocked by Darren O’Dea. The loose ball rebounded to BROWN and he calmly fired into the roof of the net from 10 yards.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were a struggle for the Dark Blues as Celtic camped out in Dundee’s half and there seemed a danger that the game might run away from the Dee. The players kept their heads, however, and dug their way back into the match. Dundee started to attack with more conviction but, frustratingly, none of the Dark Blues’ attacks resulted in clear chances, though Celtic’s defenders were often forced to clear desperately while under pressure.
In the last half hour the game resumed the pattern of the first half, with Celtic having plenty of the ball, but unable to open up Dundee’s defence. Former Dee Leigh Griffiths came off the bench, and his dummy opened up space on the edge of the penalty for Sinclair, but Bain saved comfortably. Jordi Teijsse continued to work and run tirelessly, creating constant problems for Celtic’s defence with his physical presence, and taking a fair bit of punishment in return. He won more balls than he lost in the air. These rarely resulted in clean possession for the Dark Blues, but his efforts kept the ball in the danger area and stopped Celtic clearing easily.
Midway through the half Craig Wighton came on as a straight replacement for Faissal El Bakhtaoui. In the last 10 minutes Nick Ross and Rory Loy replaced Nicky Low and Danny Williams as the Dark Blues switched to 4-3-3 to try to rescue a point.
The Dark Blues’ best moment of the second half came late on whem Cammy Kerr surged past two men in a race down the right. His low crossed flashed through the goalmouth with Mark O’Hara just unable to reach it, and that was as close as Dundee were to come.
This was a big improvement on the lacklustre performance at Inverness last week. The champions were forced to battle right the way through the 94 minutes of the game to secure three points. Dundee were always competitive and there certainly can’t be any faulting the efforts of the players who battled for everything, keeping their shape, concentration and discipline. Sadly they couldn’t find the moment of inspiration or luck that would have brought some reward today.
Dundee FC 3-5-2
Gomis, O’Dea (c), Holt
Kerr, McGowan, O’Hara, Low (Ross 80), Williams (Loy 83)
El Bakhtaoui (Wighton 64), Teijsse
Unused subs: Mitchell (gk), Vincent, Etxabeguren, Quigley.
Booked: Kerr (foul on Rogic), Williams (foul on Forrest).
Celtic FC 4-2-3-1
Lustig, Sviatchenko, Simunovic, Tierney
Brown (c), Bitton
Forrest (Roberts 74), Rogic (Griffiths 64), Sinclair (Armstrong 84)
Unused subs: De Vries (gk), Gamboa, Touré, McGregor.
Goal: Brown (47)
Booked: Bitton (foul on O’Hara).
Referee: Andrew Dallas. Assistants: Willie Conquer, Gavin Harris. Fourth official: John McKendrick.
Report: James Christie.