CELTIC 3 DUNDEE 2
GREEK hitman Giorgos Giakoumakis was a hat-trick hero as Celtic made it tough for themselves against relegation-threatened Dundee at Parkhead this afternoon.
Twice Ange Postecoglou’s side presented the Tayside outfit with goals and it took until five minutes from the end before they hit the winner to extend their lead at the Premiership pinnacle to three points.
The Hoops struggled to put this game to bed and it was left to Giakoumakis to complete his tremendous treble with time running out.
The £2.5million August purchase from Dutch minnows VVV-Venlo capped a fine individual performance with the points-clincher following an excellent right-wing cross from Anthony Ralston.
The powerhouse forward bravely threw himself at the ball at the near post to thunder an effort into the net from close range.
An interception from Josip Juranovic started the move when he broke up a Dundee breakaway and the Croatian international stormed forward before releasing a pass to Liel Abada who switched it onto Ralston. A sense of relief swept around Paradise as Giakoumakis celebrated behind the goal and picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
HAT-TRICK HERO…Giorgos Giakoumakis was the main man against Dundee.
The first flash of menace came inside five minutes when Reo Hatate sizzled a ferocious left-foot 20-yard effort just wide of keeper Ian Lawlor’s right-hand upright following a deep corner-kick from Filipe Jota.
Former Hoops striker Mark McGhee, who took charge of the Tayside outfit during the week following the sacking of James McPake, made no pretence about his formation with five across the back, but they were almost undone when Callum McGregor sent a searching cross into the packed penalty box. Unfortunately, Giakoumakis’ timing was just off and he sliced his shot wide.
Celtic dominated the opening 20 minutes and Daizen Maeda got his head to an accurate Filipe Jota right-wing cross, but the Japanese frontman’s effort lacked power and the ball sailed into the grateful arms of Lawlor.
Next up, a cross from Ralston was deflected to Hatate who spun swiftly to fire in a left-foot effort that flew over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, the midfielder repeated the feat when he thumped in a first-time drive after a right-wing corner-kick had created problems for the visiting defence.
Amazingly, Dundee opened the scoring in the 26th minute after the Hoops rearguard failed to deal with a left-wing corner-kick. Danny Mullen was left unmarked smack in front of Joe Hart and he walloped his six-yard effort past the stranded netminder.
It was a dreadful goal to concede with the home defenders standing around like exhibits from Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.
GOAL-DEN BHOY…Giorgos Giakoumakis celebrates a strike.
Celtic’s response was immediate and Giakoumakis equalised in the 34th minute when he swivelled onto the ball after getting the break off an opponent. Jota opened up the opposing defence with a neat ball over from the bye-line and Carl Starfelt unsettled the Dens men with his presence in the box.
The opportunity presented itself and the marksman made no mistake with a blistering right-foot drive from just about on the penalty spot.
Two minutes later, the Hoops went desperately close to a second when the Greek attacker sent one just wide with Maeda missing the cross by inches.
However, the two players combined in the 37th minute to present Giakoumakis with a second as Celtic roared forward in numbers.
The pacy former J-League ace delivered a perfect cross from the left which was fumbled by Lawlor. Giakoumakis pounced with a killer instinct to thump it home with his left foot from close range to take his Hoops goal tally to six since his £2.5million arrival in August. Thankfully, he would later take it to seven.
Referee Gavin Duncan ignored two penalty-kick calls in quickfire succession when both Juranovic and Giakoumakis were flattened in the box. The second shout certainly looked valid, but the match official was having none of it.
Inside two minutes of the second-half, Maeda was out of luck when a cross from Jota skidded off the soaking surface with the Japanese attacker unmarked at the far post.
The Hoops were chasing the third goal, but skipper Callum McGregor’s elevation was way off as he raced onto a deflection from a Ralston cross. Alas, the anchorman was wayward with his left-foot shot from 12 yards and the ball swept yards over the bar.
ON THE BALL…Filipe Jota was a real handful for Dundee on both wings.
The wind was proving troublesome, but the Hoops, with Jota looking particularly eager, continued to press the game in the search for another goal to give themselves some breathing space.
In the 59th minute, Jota volleyed in a headed pass from Matt O’Riley past Lawlor, but the Portuguese winger had strayed just offside.
On the hour mark, Dundee, incredibly, equalised from another set-piece that wasn’t dealt with again by the defence.
Niall McGinn sent a diagonal free-kick into the box and defender Ryan Sweeney got up above everyone to bullet a header low past the sprawling Hart at his right-hand post.
Celtic had it all to do again after dominating a massive percentage of the contest and taking their eye off the ball twice to present the Dens men two goals.
In the 67th minute, Abada and Tom Rogic were sent on for Maeda and Hatate as Postecoglou attempted to freshen his line-up.
Moments later, the Israel international winger didn’t make a clean connection with a flashing left-wing cross from Jota and the opposing defence breathed a sigh of relief.
STRIP STRIP HOORAY…Giorgos Giakoumakis celebrates his winner.
BHOYS’ ZONE…Celtic players crowd around hat-trick star Giorgos Giakoumakis after his points-clincher.
In the 79th minute, Nir Bitton came on for O’Riley with McGregor moving into a more offensive role.
The captain came so close to setting up a goal with a neat pass across goal, but it eluded Abada and the chance was gone.
Only five minutes remained when Giakoumakis made his presence felt with his points-winning header.
You count out this Celtic team at your peril, that’s for sure. Once again, they displayed a lot of character to win the points to widen the gap after Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Ibrox side had drawn 1-1 with Dundee United earlier in the day.
Now all eyes are once again on the European front with the second leg of the Europa Conference League tie against Bodo/Glimt due on Thursday.
Postecoglou’s men go into the encounter trailing by 3-1, but no-one should discount their chances of returning with a win.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Juranovic; Hatate (sub: Rogic 67), McGregor, O’Riley (sub: Bitton 79); Jota, Maeda (sub: Abada 67), Giakoumakis