Eleven on the bounce for dominant Celts
Celtic extended their run of wins in the Scottish Premiership to eleven thanks to a stunning free kick from Leigh Griffiths just before the break, and a well executed strike from Nir Bitton just prior to the hour mark.
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Saturday 17th December
Celtic - 2 (Griffiths 45, Bitton 57)
Dundee - 1 (Haber 69)
Celtic continued their dominance of the Scottish Premiership with a 2-1 victory over Dundee thanks to goals from Leigh Griffiths and Nir Bitton. Celtic were without skipper Scott Brown, the influential midfielder suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards. Despite his absence, Brendan Rodgers’ men typically began in the ascendancy and forced Dundee to defend deep in their own half in large numbers. Celtic were perhaps not at their fluid best, particularly in the second half as Dundee found a consolation goal, which seemed to cause an element of anxiety to creep into the Celtic eleven for the closing quarter of an hour or so. However, it is difficult to be too critical of a Celtic side that was missing the likes of Scott Brown, Kieran Tierney and James Forrest while there was only a place on the bench for the likes of Sinclair, Dembélé and Patrick Roberts who have been having fine seasons thus far. The fact that Brendan Rodgers was confident enough that his men could win the game without some of his key performers thus far this season is testament to the strength of the squad currently at Parkhead, highlighted in the fact Celtic were indeed able to extend their run of wins in Scotland to eleven, in what has been a demanding, if not harsh winter fixture list with no signs of easing up in the near future, with the task of overcoming Partick Thistle once more lying ahead on Tuesday night.
Despite the heavy fixture schedule of late, Celtic showed no signs of weariness in the opening exchanges and Leigh Griffiths was unfortunate not to open the deadlock on ten minutes. The front man was the orchestrator in the move, dragging Dundee defenders out of position at the edge of the penalty area before playing an intricate one-two with Israeli midfielder Nir Bitton. Bitton returned the ball to the front man with a well-weighted pass, however the Scottish strikers effort at guiding the ball into the left hand corner of the net was thwarted by the post; 0-0 it remained. Celtic once again came agonisingly close to taking the lead eight minutes later after some clever play around the edge of the 18 yard box resulted in an opening for Tom Rogic. The Aussie midfielder has been in tremendous goalscoring form this season and it when the ball ended up at his feet about six yards from goal it was difficult to envisage him missing the target – however he seemed to be unable to adjust himself and snatched at the change, with it going well over the bar. It was a let off for Dundee but the signs were there that a goal was coming for the Celts.
Celtic continued to dominate possession in the opening exchanges, Dundee content to defend deep. Gary Mackay-Steven and Ryan Christie were proving to be a handful for the Dundee back four, while full backs Cristian Gamboa and Emilio Izaguirre did their best to stretch the opposition. The centre of Dundee’s defence were resolute in defending the Celtic onslaught, and were proving to be a very difficult nut to crack. Darren O’Dea, the Dundee captain made some crucial interceptions for Dundee, however it was his aggressive challenge on Tom Rogic which ultimately cost his team the opening goal of the game, and the first yellow card of the game. There was a sense of uneasiness among Celtic fans after the challenge as Tom Rogic was unable to continue. Rogic has been integral to Celtic’s successes this season so Celtic fans all over will be wishing him a speedy recovery. Leigh Griffiths lined up to take the resultant free kick, 25 yards from goal – and the execution was divine in every sense of the word. Last season’s SPFL player of the year was in search of his third goal in three matches and he was able to find it with an expertly executed free kick. Griffiths was able to lift the ball over the Dundee wall, but even more impressively find the required amount of movement and accuracy to direct the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net. Scott Bain was left scrambling in the Dundee net and Celtic went into the half-time interval deserved leaders.
Celtic began the second half brightly, energised by Griffiths’ free kick just before the half time whistle. The lead was doubled 12 minutes into the second period when Dundee struggled to clear their lines after some extended Celtic pressure. The ball fell to Nir Bitton about twenty yards from goal and the Israeli holding midfielder kept his composure well to curl the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net, once again leaving Scott Bain with next to no chance in the Dundee goal. Only a few moments after Celtic had doubled their lead, it was almost three. Griffiths received the ball from Callum McGregor about thirty yards from goal with space in front of him. The striker set himself with his first touch, and struck the ball on the half volley with his second. The in-form striker made a sweet connection with the ball but the shot just lacked the required dip to trouble Scott Bain.
It was difficult to see a way back for Dundee at 2-0 but they came marginally close to halving Celtic’s lead on 66 minutes when a Marcus Haber header hit the Celtic woodwork after a well delivered corner. The ball rebounded off the post but only as far as Dundee striker Craig Wighton and what seemed like an almost certain goal was cleared off the line by Celtic’s stand in captain Stuart Armstrong. Armstrong, who has been in fine form of late, showed the determination and willingness associated with being a captain of Celtic when following on from his clearance, he bombed forward with great energy to spear-head a Celtic counter attack. The ball eventually fell to the midfielder’s feet at the edge of the box, and while he was able to create an opening for himself, he dragged his effort just wide of the Dundee goal. A minute later, Dundee did find a consolation and it was through Marcus Haber. The Canadian International had drifted away from the attention of the Celtic defence, and was found by young midfielder Mark O’Hara. Celtic’s defence were stretched and while Cristian Gamboa attempted to rectify the danger, the Costa Rican full back over-committed to the challenge and consequently lost his balance, allowing the Dundee striker the space for an opportunity. Haber was afforded an element of good fortune when his effort ricocheted off Jozo Šimunović and into the back of the net.
Scott Sinclair’s introduction just prior to the Dundee goal will have brought a smile to the faces of the fifty odd thousand fans at Celtic Park today. While results of late have not suffered, the dynamic English winger’s pace and guile had been a joy to watch prior to his injury and Brendan Rodgers will be hoping he can recapture his early season form over the Christmas period. Celtic appeared anxious in the latter exchanges of the second half - and naturally the goal added a bit of life to Hartley’s men, who began to press Celtic higher up the park and give the Hoops a little bit more to think about. It looked like Dundee were going to snatch a draw with two minutes remaining when some more disjointed Celtic defending allowed Dundee’s El Bakhtaoiu, who had only just been introduced to the action, a clear path at the Celtic goal. The Moroccan, a summer signing from Dunfermline Athletic carried the ball into the penalty area but lacked the composure to beat an onrushing Craig Gordon, and fired his effort well over the bar. It was something of a let off for Celtic - and one which undoubtedly will have spared Hoops blushes.
The victory made it eleven wins on the bounce in the league for Celtic – a joint current record in Europe along with English Premier League high fliers Chelsea. With the re-introduction of Scott Sinclair today after injury, and the return of Scott Brown and James Forrest to follow, the champions are showing no signs of taking the foot off the gas in pursuit of title number six in a row – despite the eleven point cushion and two games in hand over second placed Rangers. It is difficult to see where a loss is going to come for the Scottish Champions – who have enjoyed their best ever start to a domestic season under Brendan Rodgers, and who continue to receive the plaudits for the football they are playing both on the domestic scene and in the Champions League this season.