DUNDEE 1 CELTIC 2
CELTIC moved to within one game of their sixth successive Premiership triumph after a hard-fought encounter at Dens Park this afternoon.
It was tough and tense, but once the smoke of battled had cleared, three more points were in the bag and now the title can be won a fortnight today against Hearts at Tynecastle.
There was precious little sparkle on this occasion as the Hoops ground out their third odd-goal victory of the season over Paul Hartley’s stubborn side.
Referee Willie Collum allowed five minutes of stoppage time as the Tayside outfit frantically searched for an equaliser.
The game eventually came to a halt with Moussa Dembele limping heavily with what looked like a hamstring strain.
Possibly, the international break is coming at the ideal time for the French Under-21 striker.
He has lost some of his goal threat in recent weeks and rarely threatened Scott Bain on this occasion, although to be fair, the 32-goal man worked hard throughout.
Scott Sinclair, too, isn’t quite performing at the top of his qualities and he was sacrificed near the end when Brendan Rodgers introduced Erik Sviatchenko to help shore up the defence.
There was a perfectly-observed one minute’s silence for Lisbon Lion Tommy Gemmell before the kick-off as the Tayside club honoured their former player and manager.
It took 11 minutes for Celtic to show any danger after Sinclair had been flattened by Darren O’Dea and the match official had no hesitation in awarding a free-kick 30 yards out.
Stuart Armstrong took it, but sent the ball spiralling wide of the keeper’s right-hand post.
In the 20th minute, ex-Celt Paul McGowan was the first name to be noted by referee Collum after a tug on Callum McGregor’s shirt.
Kevin Gomis joined him when he knocked over Dembele from behind as the home side showed they meant business.
In the 39th minute, Scott Brown lofted over an inviting cross from wide left and Mikael Lustig nodded it down to Dembele about 16 yards out. His first touch was excellent, but his follow-up shot drifted waywardly into the crowd.
Then it was O’Dea’s turn to be booked when he rugby-tackled Sinclair to the ground.
It looked to be heading a for a scoreless stalemate at the interval when Celtic suddenly sparked to life.
In the 45th minute, Armstrong flighted over a superb corner-kick from the right that picked out Dedryck Boyata.
The central defender arrived smack on the money to direct a header wide of Bain, but McGowan managed to clear on the goalline for another corner-kick.
Armstrong’s accuracy was out second time around, but the Hoops regained possession through James Forrest on the right.
His first attempt at a cross was blocked, but he gathered the rebound, jinked past Kevin Holt and hit a right-foot cross into the box.
Jozo Simunovic, just 12 yards out, lunged at the ball and didn’t make the cleanest of contacts, but there was enough on his touch to direct the ball goalwards where it took a nick off Gomis on its way low past Bain at his left.
Dundee were up for a scrap in the second-half and in the 47th minute Holt tried to catch out Craig Gordon with a crafty low free-kick to the keeper’s right.
However, the Scotland international No.1 was alert enough to read his effort and he made a routine save at his post.
And four minutes later, Gordon was involved in a fabulous sweeping move that set up the second goal.
He sent an inch-perfect clearance to Lustig on the right touchline. The Swedish defender killed the ball instantly and touched it inside to Dembele.
He passed it onto McGregor who fed it out wide right to the lurking Forrest.
The winger brought the ball under control, looked up and swung over a cross with impeccable accuracy and Armstrong raced in to glance an eight-yard header wide of Bain, who was rooted to his line as the ball soared in at his right-hand post.
A few minutes later, Brown was booked after a foul on McGowan as the game got a bit towsy.
Sinclair, who had been strangely subdued, came to life in the 65th minute with a neat run into the box as he tried to tee up an opportunity for Dembele.
However, Gomis’ timely interception brought the move to a halt just as the frontman was poised to pull the trigger.
Three minutes later, Sinclair made a complete mess of an attempted header after a nice ball into the box by McGregor.
In the 69th minute, Rodgers sent on Eboue Kouassi for his first Premiership appearance.
The Ivory Coast midfielder replaced McGregor, but, on this showing, he will need time to settle into the Hoops’ pattern.
Two minutes later, Patrick Roberts came on for Forrest and Sviatchenko completed the trio when he came on for Sinclair near the end.
Dundee substitute Faissal El Bakhtaoui, only on the field for a matter of moments, put the Parkhead men under pressure with a spectacular goal in the 76th minute.
Kouassi, who was also booked, was penalised in the centre of the pitch for a foul and the home side cleverly took the free-kick swiftly.
The substitute striker turned deftly away from Boyata and sped directly towards Gordon as Simunovic tried to catch him.
El Bakhtaoui then lashed at the ball about 25 yards out and the Celtic keeper didn’t have a chance as his effort moved in the air on its way into his top left-hand corner.
As the game limped to a conclusion, over-fussy referee Collum booked Dembele and then Dundee’s Holt.
It wasn’t pretty and, as a spectacle, it won’t linger in the memory banks.
But it was job done as the champions stretched their unbeaten domestic run to a remarkable 36 games.
Now it’s time to get that champagne on ice for another title party in a fortnight’s time.
Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Simunovic, Tierney; Brown, McGregor (sub: Kouassi 69); Forrest (sub: Roberts 71), Armstrong, Sinclair (sub: Sviatchenko 83); Dembele.