Dundee 0 Celtic 2: Samaras stunner sends Bhoys seven points clear at top
23:25 GMT, 26 December 2012
Temporarily freed from the heavy
demands of European football, Celtic are now beginning to fly. Not quite
yet a speck on the horizon as far as the rest of the SPL are concerned
but, to all intents and purposes, already safely out of reach.
For long enough, those titanic
tussles with Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow proved so taxing that
they left Neil Lennon’s men breathless and leggy for domestic duties.
Not now. Not since Spartak were dispatched earlier this month.
Spectacular: Georgios Samaras (left) puts Celtic ahead
Dundee: Douglas, Irvine,Lockwood, Benedictus, Gallagher, McAlister, O'Donnell (Boyle 83), McBride, Conroy, John Baird (Stewart 74), Nish. Subs Not Used: Alex Baird, McGregor, Easton, Reid.
Celtic: Forster, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew (Lustig 46), Izaguirre, Wanyama, Brown, Kayal (Forrest 60), Hooper, Samaras, Watt (McCourt 79). Subs Not Used: Zaluska, Miku, Nouioui, Rogne.
Goals: Samaras 16, Hooper 71.
Ref: Iain Brines (Scotland).
This was Celtic’s fourth straight win in the SPL since the Russians were put to the sword — with Hearts having been beatean prior to that European clash — and few would bet against the half dozen being racked up by the time the winter break arrives in a week’s time.
They made short work of their first trip to Dens on league business in eight years, goals from Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper sending them seven points ahead of second-placed Inverness with a game in hand.
What is now a sizeable gap may quickly become a chasm. The expected script for the season is now being adhered to, albeit after a slight deviation from the plot.
The only possible blip for Celtic last night was an apparent elbow from Kelvin Wilson on Dundee’s diminutive striker John Baird as they chased the ball in the first half.
Referee Iain Brines missed the incident and, while the SFA may look at retrospective action, the height difference between the players may save the Parkhead defender from punishment.
Dundee have occasionally threatened to thumb their noses at what many believe to be the inevitable this season, but they are still down among the dead men in 12th place. What an effort it is going to require if they are to dig themselves out of this hole.
All pile on: Celtic celebrate Samaras strike
Losing to the Scottish champions was
not, in itself, a hammer blow last night but the points gained earlier
in the day by St Mirren and Ross Country were. Now nine adrift, Barry
Smith’s men will soon be looking for snookers.
The days of chopping and changing appear to be at an end for Celtic.
With the exception of Tony Watt’s introduction at the expense of Lassad,
Lennon stood by the men who dismantled Ross County last Saturday.
The only hint of experimentation was the 4-3-1-2 formation — with Hooper the link man between Watt and Samaras.
For Dens boss Smith, there are no such distractions in his battle to
survive in the elite division. Occasionally, some semi-desperate
measures are required and, with Nicky Riley absent through injury, he
was forced to throw in Stephen O’Donnell for his first start since
O’Donnell was in the thick of it from the off, however. When Emilio
Izaguirre made a hash of a clearance, he seized possession on the edge
of the box and ignored the close attention of Charlie Mulgrew to drive
Izaguirre redeemed himself further up the field with a peach of a cross
to tee up Watt. His volley forced veteran goalkeeper Robert Douglas to
paw the ball the ball away for a corner. With that, Celtic sparked into
From Mulgrew’s corner, Efe Ambrose thundered a volley off the underside
of the bar. Victor Wanyama failed to control the rebound and fired
Hooper’s low strike then flashed a foot wide of the upright, but it
seemed that the first goal was becoming a matter of when, rather than
Super: Gary Hooper lobs the ball over Rab Douglas to put Celtic 2-0 in front
Mulgrew’s consistency in delivering from set-pieces is one of the main
weapons in Celtic’s arsenal and last night his ability to land the ball
on a sixpence was a source of torment for the Dens men.
On 16 minutes, he arched his left foot around the ball and picked out
Watt with another heat-seeking missile. Douglas beat away the teenager’s
volley but with insufficient strength to clear the danger. With his
back to goal, Samaras caught the ball cleanly and found the back of the
net with a textbook bicycle kick despite the best efforts of Jim
McAlister on the line.
Were it not for Douglas, Celtic would have had the issue as good as
settled inside 22 minutes. Taking a pass from Samaras, Beram Kayal
bounded towards goal but slipped the Greek back in when he hit the edge
of the box. Samaras’s curling shot looked bound for the far post all the
way until the keeper extended an arm to flick the ball round the post.
Dundee just could not get out in the first half. Each time they looked
up, they were suffocated by a swarm of white shirts. Smith had bravely
opted to play two up front in Colin Nish and Baird to try to stretch the
game, but his pairing were starved of service and his midfield
And Nish seemed taken by surprise when Dundee’s best chance of the
evening was put on a plate for him five minutes into the second half.
Ryan Conroy’s cross from the left was top drawer, as was Fraser
Forster’s reaction, but the lumbering striker ought to have given the
Celtic keeper no chance with his header from five yards.
With Nish playing deeper, Dundee improved. Kevin McBride worried Forster
with a low drive then Baird’s shot flew narrowly over after catching
Mikael Lustig had replaced Mulgrew at the break and, when James Forrest
stepped on to the turf to replace Kayal after an hour, Celtic’s
freshness down the right was eye-catching.
Their second goal stemmed from there, the ever-improving Lustig picking
out Hooper with a sweet ball over the top. The Englishman saw Douglas
half-a-yard off his line and embarrassed the former Celtic keeper with
an inch-perfect lob.
Coming just seconds after the former Scunthorpe man traded bookings with
Kyle Benedictus for squaring up, it was a sweet moment for the striker.
Dundee’s hopes of staging a comeback died when Forster backtracked to tip Nish’s header over the top with time running out.
The Dark Blues stuck with it and will take something from remaining in
the contest for so long. They know days like these won’t define the rest
of their season, but they can ill-afford to be cut further adrift.
For Celtic, the winter break suddenly looks like it’s coming at the wrong time.