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  • Celtic defeat Dundee to move 11 points clear

    Celtic defeat Dundee to move 11 points clear

    By: Mark Henderson on 17 Dec, 2016 17:03

  • Scottish Premiership
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Saturday, December 17, 2016

    (Griffiths 45+1, Bitton 57)

    (Haber 69)

    CELTIC restored their 11-point lead at the top of the table and extended their domestic unbeaten run to 20 matches after a narrow but dominant 2-1 over Dundee.

    Leigh Griffiths’ fabulous free-kick sent the Hoops into the interval in the lead after they had controlled a one-sided first half and Nir Bitton doubled the advantage 12 minutes into the second period.

    At that point, it looked like it would be a comfortable afternoon for the champions but Marcus Haber’s deflected strike made it a more nervy finish. However, Brendan Rodgers’ side saw out the closing stages to march on in the title race.   

    Ryan Christie made his second league start of the season in one of five changes to the team that saw off Hamilton on Tuesday night. Cristian Gamboa, Emilio Izaguirre, Bitton and Gary Mackay-Steven also came into the side, while  Griffiths, who had also scored the winner against Hamilton Accies, continued to lead the line for the Bhoys.

    Stuart Armstrong donned the captain’s armband in the absence of the suspended Scott Brown, and Mikael Lustig, Patrick Roberts, Callum McGregor and Moussa Dembele were the other players to drop out. All were named among the substitutes.

    Celtic began at a furious tempo, quickly pinning the visitors back deep in their defensive third and moving the ball around with pace and purpose.

    Gamboa was prominent in the early exchanges, using his devastating speed to good effect to send in some dangerous deliveries from the byline, while only a last-ditch tackle from Kostadin Gadzhalov denied Christie a clear strike at goal after he had darted into the box.

    Christie had another shot charged down by Tom Hateley and some quick counter-pressing from Armstrong culminated in Griffiths seeing a shot deflected wide.

    In the 10th minute, a wonderfully-worked move almost saw Brendan Rodgers side open the scoring. Following a short corner, Christie fed Griffiths on the edge of the area. Showing tremendous technique, he collected a return pass from Nir Bitton in his stride and sent a guided effort off the far post.

    Armstrong and Rogic had shots from distance saved by Bain as the pressure continued unabated – and then Rogic spurned a golden chance to break the deadlock. Christie picked out the midfielder’s run into the box with a sublime pass leaving him with only Bain to beat but he scooped the ball over the bar.  

    It had been completely one-way traffic and it took until the 24th minute for Dundee to emerge from their defensive shell, with Hateley shooting over following a set-piece.

    Normal service quickly resumed and Rogic had a curling shot held by Bain at the second attempt, before Kevin Holt lashed wide for the visitors with a speculative shot.   

    As half-time approached, the champions continued to probe for a route through the sea of dark blue shirts, moving the ball from side to side as Gamboa and Emilio Izaguirre operated as auxiliary wingers.

    It was taking a series of last-gasp challenges and blocks to keep the Bhoys at bay, and one desperate clearance from Gadzhalov cannoned off his own player Holt and whizzed past the post.  

    Finally, on the stroke of half-time, the visitors’ resistance crumbled – but only through a moment of magic from Griffiths. Rogic was sent crashing the ground 30 yards from goal by Darren O’Dea, a foul which forced the Australian internationalist to make a premature exit from the fray, and Griffiths brilliantly swept the resulting set-piece over wall and into the corner for his 12th goal of the season.

    Callum McGregor replaced Rogic for the start of the second half and after a short lull, the Hoops picked up the tempo and began to flood forward again.

    Nimble footwork from the Christie in the box saw him dig out a cross from the byline that forced Holt to head off the line.

    Moments later, Dundee's defence was breached again. After another swift interchange of passes down the left, Izaguirre’s cross from the byline was only partially cleared and Bitton picked his spot with an accurate finish from the edge of the box.  

    Griffiths lashed a half-volley narrowly over from 25 yards as Celtic threatened to inflict further punishment but it was the Dens Park side who grabbed the next goal.

    The Hoops failed to heed a warning in the 66th minute, when Armstrong had to head Wighton’s attempt off the line following a corner as two minutes later, Haber collected a pass in the box and found the net via a deflection off Jozo Simunovic.

    Scott Sinclair then made a welcome return from injury in place of Mackay-Steven before Izaguirre and Griffiths flashed shots wide. Moussa Dembele, in the running for the prestigious Young French Player of the Year prize, was also introduced and he had a couple of efforts on goal as the game became stretched.

    Dundee substitute Faissal El-Bakhtaoui missed a wonderful chance to steal a point for his team, before Sinclair almost capitalised on a couple of late counter-attacks as the Hoops prevailed to cement their position at the league summit.  

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Gamboa, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre; Bitton; Rogic (McGregor 46) Armstrong; Mackay-Steven (Sinclair 68) Griffiths (Dembele 78), Christie
    Not Used: De Vries, Toure, Lustig, Roberts

    DUNDEE (5-4-1) Bain; Kerr, Gomis, O’Dea, Gadzhalov, Holt; Wighton, Hateley (El-Bakhtaoui 87),  Vincent, Williams (O’Hara 64); Haber
    Not Used: Mitchell, Loy, Etxabeguren, Ross, Curran

    Website Man of the Match: Ryan Christie


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