DUNDEE UTD 1 – 1 CELTIC
CELTIC’S bid for the treble is still alive – despite some of the most bizarre decision-making by match officials that has been witnessed in some considerable time.
Once the smoke had cleared, the Scottish Cup quarter-final tie at Tannadice had finished all-square with the replay scheduled for Parkhead a week on Wednesday. But the scoreline cannot mask some of the most woeful and nonsensical awards by referee Craig Thomson and his truly awful standside linesman Graham Chambers.
Virgil Van Dijk’s appearance on the field lasted only 10 minutes before he was banished for the second time in four games after seeing red in the Europa Cup-tie against Inter Milan in the San Siro.
The Dutch central defender might have been in line to pick up a yellow after a tussle on the ground with United’s Calum Butcher as they both went forcefully for a loose ball after Scott Brown had been kicked in the face by the shameless Nadir Ciftci. Chambers, yards from the incident, missed that completely, remarkably enough.
Paul Paton, who wasn’t even in the vicinity when the incident occurred, was ordered off along with Van Dijk after a clear case of mistaken identity. Both players looked more than just a little bewildered as they made their way to their respective dressing rooms.
It didn’t get any better on the stroke of half-time when Thomson awarded Jackie McNamara’s side a penalty-kick with the tie deadlocked at 0-0.
Emilio Izaguirre must take the blame for the ball even reaching the Celtic penalty area. He made a crazy swipe at the ball to present it to Aiden Connolly who took off at speed into the box.
Far too easily, he swept past a static Nir Bitton before Anthony Stokes tried to intervene. Connolly anticipated the challenge as Stokes withdrew his legs to prevent contact and clearly the United player took a dive. If there was contact, it was imaginary.
However, it was enough for Thomson to point to the spot and Ciftci, who shouldn’t have been on the pitch if Chambers had been doing his job, swept it low past Craig Gordon at his right hand post.
United went in at the interval a goal to the good and it was a statistic that bordered on the farcical.
Thomson, who booked Leigh Griffiths for celebrating after scoring at Hampden in the League Cup semi final, took no action against Ciftci who left the field of play to celebrate.
Celtic, without hitting top gear, looked to be in control even after the loss of their defensive leader Van Dijk. However, Stokes and Leigh Griffiths were having one of those afternoons when their concentration was wavering. They were continually caught offside and, infuriatingly, it was breaking up the pattern of the play which suited the home side.
Stokes, in particular, was wasteful when he was in possession. At that stage, no-one would have put bad money on him not getting hooked at some point and it duly came in the 68th minute when John Guidetti came on.
United keeper Radoslaw Ceirzniak, who has been known to be unpredictable, was having the game of his life as he repelled Celtic attacks.
But in the 44th minute, the Hoops escaped when Butcher had a shot from the edge of the box that was deflected in front of Ryan Gow, played onside by Bitton who was filling in for Van Dijk. Gow toe-poked it beyond the outrushing Gordon, but the ball struck the base of the upright and rebounded to safety.
Only moments later, Stefan Johansen, who has had better days in the green and white, slid in a low ball to set Stokes clear, but with only the keeper to beat, the frontman screwed his shot onto the post and United, too, had a let-off. It should have been a goal.
Izaguirre then had a moment of madness when he presented the ball to Connolly and he won the penalty-kick from which Ciftci put the home side ahead.
One minute into the second-half, there were gasps of disbelief when Thomson, with a clear view, denied Celtic a penalty-kick when Sean Dillon pushed Jason Denayer as he went for a left-wing corner-kick from Stokes.
A couple of minutes later the lethargic James Forrest produced a chance when he got to the bye-line, but Johansen was slow to react and the opportunity was lost.
However, in the 48th minute Ronny Deila’s men were presented with a chance to level when Thomson had little option but to award a spot-kick after Paul Dixon had blocked a Leigh Griffiths shot was his arm following being set up by a cute ball from the bye-line from Stokes.
Dixon was sent packing as Griffiths prepared to make it all-square. Unfortunately, his drive lacked precision and the heroic United keeper dived to his left to beat the ball away. It fell to Forrest who was slow to take advantage.
On the hour mark, it was Cierzniak to the rescue again as he threw himself to his right to push away an angled drive from Stokes who had been set up by Forrest. Three minutes later, the Irishman made way for Guidetti as Celtic pushed all the way for the leveller.
Efe Ambrose, though, almost gifted United a second goal with a shocking pass out of defence that went straight to Chris Erskine, but, thankfully, Gordon made a courageous save and dived on the rebound before anyone else could move in for the kill.
Seconds later, Johansen let in Guidetti, but he rushed his shot and blasted it off the outstretched leg of the keeper. Celtic had to score and it eventually arrived in the 71st miunute.
Bitton passed in front of Johansen about 30 yards out and the Norwegian delicately flicked the ball into the box. Griffiths’ timing and positioning were perfect and he merely guided a header beyond Cierzniak.
Celtic, with a one man advantage, went for the jugular, but it was turning into a bad day at the office. Johansen was booked for pulling down Ciftci and the yellow card means he will miss the replay.
In the 77th minute, Bitton tried to take the United rearguard by surprise with a shot from outside the box, but his accuracy wasn’t what it should have been and the ball was off target. Guidetti was culpable in the 82nd minute when Forrest teed one up from about 20 yards. Unfortunately, for the Swede, his elevation was well out and he skied the ball into the stand.
There was one last chance for Guidetti in the fading moments after a pass from Bitton, but he was cumbersome in trying to bring the ball under control and allowed the Polish goalie to smother the ball.
So, Deila’s dream of the domestic clean sweep is still alive, but, in truth, this game should have been put to bed – especially when United went down to nine men.
Unfortunately, the occasion will be remembered more for the mind-boggling antics of messrs Thomson and Chambers than anything else. Celtic have won surprisingly few trebles in our history. Referees and their assistants tend to make it Mission Impossible for the hoops.
TEAM: Gordon; Ambrose, Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton (sub: Fisher 90); Forrest, Johansen, Stokes (sub: Guidetti 63); Griffiths (sub: Scepovic 87).