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BLANKETY BLANK IN CELTIC’S STARTER FOR 10

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CELTIC 0 DUNDEE 0

IT was blank looks all round as Celtic were made to settle for a point in an uninspiring scoreless stalemate against Dundee at Parkhead this evening.

The champions moved 10 points clear of Aberdeen after having the bulk of possession against the Dens Park outfit, but they missed that killer strike

that would have brought the much-needed breakthrough goal.

It was an evening where Brendan Rodgers were in control without converting their superiority into the currency that matters in football – sticking the ball in the opponents’ net.

The Hoops gaffer showed his concern at the lack of vim and vigour when he introduced all three substitutes around the 66-minute mark with Olivier Ntcham, Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths introduced for Tom Rogic, Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele.

Rodgers went to a back three with Callum McGregor pushing further forward, but it was all to no avail as they had to settle for a draw on their inevitable path towards their seventh successive Premiership title.

Ironically, one of the occasions when they came nearest to shattering the deadlock came three minutes from time when Jack Hendry, facing his former club for the first time since his January switch, headed wide from a clever Griffiths free-kick. On another day, that would have flown towards the rigging.

A few minutes later, Griffiths, still three goals short of the magical 100 for the Hoops, snapped a shot over Elliot Parrish’s crossbar and with that effort went Celtic’s last chance of a winner.

This encounter looked far removed from a goalless confrontation at the start of proceedings when Rodgers’ men looked lively straight from the off. Rogic sent over a cute left-wing cross, but it carried just wide of Stuart Armstrong at the far post.

Dembele followed that up with a shot that was well saved by the Tayside keeper, but the visitors proved they weren’t there just to make up the numbers when Simon Murray thumped in a dangerous effort that was superbly touched over the bar by Craig Gordon, making his top team return since sustaining a knee injury in the 1-0 win over Hibs on January 27.

Fittingly, the athletic shotstopper celebrated his 200th appearance with a shut-out which was more than deserved.

Normal service resumed when James Forrest jinked inside two defenders, but his effort was turned round the post for a corner-kick.

The international winger had another chance shortly afterwards, but blazed over from a reasonable position.

Armstrong slung in an inviting corner-kick before the half-hour mark, but Dedryck Boyata failed to hit the target.

There was a worrying moment for the Hoops just before the interval when Boyata tackled Roarie Deacon and the ball somehow rebounded to clatter off the upright and Hendry stepped in to clear the danger.

After the turnaround, Celtic tried to raise the tempo against stubborn opponents who realised that every point earned is a point towards survival.

The champions moved the ball around well enough, but there was no decisive thrust to open up the Dens Park rearguard. Just like the blank days against Sevco Rangers, Hearts, St Johnstone and Motherwell this season, there was a lack of ingenuity in the final third.

Admittedly, that is a worrying feature, but in the midst of the anticipated criticism, it should be remembered Rodgers’ team are within touching distance of a historic double treble.

It was never going to be a smooth path towards that unprecedented achievement, but that is not to take away the fact the players should adopt a more positive outlook, a more clinical approach and merciless nature in getting things done.

The Celtic fans, after all, are used to seeing their idols achieving targets with a grand flourish and a fair bit of style.

As the contest neared its conclusion, Ntcham hit a drive that rose over the bar and Edouard cracked in an effort that was deflected wide of goal.

Armstrong, in only his second start this year, tried hard to galvanise his troops and Scott Brown put in his usual shift, but there was no reward at the end of a frustrating evening in the east end of Glasgow.

Rest assured, Celtic supporters, the best is yet to come.

CQN Man of the Match: Stuart Armstrong.

TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Hendry, Boyata, McGregor; Brown, Armstrong; Forrest, Rogic (sub: Ntcham 66), Sinclair (sub: Edouard 66); Dembele (sub: Griffiths 66).

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