Celtic visited Dens Park on Boxing Day seeking goals and points and were successful in getting both. They also came up against a Dundee side who were very physical, as Jonny Hayes will testify I am sure so they had their work cut out for them.
Brendan Rodgers made three changes to the starting lineup from the team that faced Aberdeen on Saturday. Out went Stuart Armstrong, Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele and in came Callum McGregor, James Forrest and Leigh Griffiths.
The Hoops looked up for this one and worked hard to control the flow of the game. It was a dogged display at times with Dundee being, as I mentioned earlier, physical.
Surprisingly, it was Celtic who topped the stats for fouls committed. Though it appeared as though Dundee were the getting a better deal from the match officials given some of the challenges.
This didn’t deter Celtic from playing their game though. A sense of determination from the Bhoys was apparent has they pressed forward each time.
The chances were coming thick and fast. Elliot Parish did his job in keeping the scoreline down as did the woodwork and some inaccurate finishing by Celtic.
Because of that the scoreline remained 0-2. The first goal came from man on fire, James Forrest.
If he keeps this up for the second half of the season he’ll be challenging Scott Sinclair for top scorer. And if he does even that he is a clear winner for Player of the Year.
I’m sure one or two others might have a say in that such as Scott Brown and Kieran Tierney but for now Forrest is the man. His goal came from fine piece of play from just inside the Celtic half.
Ajer played it to Brown who did a one two with McGregor on the halfway line then slotted ahead to Hayes. Hayes threaded it to Griffiths who laid it off for Tierney on the left.
Tierney’s cross found Forrest who smashed it home with his left foot. It was a fantastic move against any opponent.
So Celtic were off to a great start after just 8 minutes. Then in the 23rd minute Jonny Hayes and Josh Meekings clashed as they went for the same ball.
Meekings went full force into the challenge, but both players went off injured after a long delay to the match. Hayes is due to have a scan on what looked like a bad one, but the extent of the injury is still unknown.
It’s an unfortunate setback for Hayes who after scoring is first ever competitive goal at the weekend was looking full of confidence. Celtic need players like that right now as others are perhaps not quite on their game at the moment.
Substitute Michael Johnston came on and played on the left-wing. To be fair to the Celtic youth player he put in a decent shift as well.
He’s pretty slight in build compared to other youngsters like Kieran Tierney and Anthony Ralston, but he certainly made up for it in guile. He was heavily involved in several attacking moves for the rest of the match including a clear opportunity to score one himself.
The second goal would come from former Dens player, Leigh Griffiths though. A weak pass out of the Dundee defence was pounced upon by a pressing Scott Brown who played it quick to Olivier Ntcham.
The French under-21 internationalist found Griffiths running into the box. From that position on his left foot, Griffiths rarely misses and he didn’t.
The second half was still fiercely competitive by both teams, but it failed to yield any more goals. Brendan Rodgers will be pleased with the performance overall.
With series of teams changes over the last few weeks he will have a better idea of who his best performers at this stage of the season. In the final game of the year against Rangers at Celtic Park he’ll want his strongest side out there to see off the challenge of the Ibrox side.
Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, Oliver Ntcham and James Forrest are the team’s best players right now. They look hungry and confident.
With Craig Gordon certain to keep his place and Kristoffer Ajer likely to be given another starting slot at centre half, that’s the bulk of the lineup decided.
Mikael Lustig will definitely play at right back, but I’m still uncertain about Dedryck Boyata. He’s been favoured over Jozo Simunovic of late but I’d still say Jozo is the better player.
Scott Sinclair will play on the left for sure. With Hayes out he needs Sinclair out there with Forrest on the right, but whether Scotty has a good day or a bad day is down to him.
He’s still been among the goals this season and still our leading scorer, but his performances have not been so great. The final midfield berth would generally be between Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor (Tom Rogic excluded through injury), but there might be room for another.
Neither of those Scottish players have been at their best recently and with other options available I wouldn’t be against a fresh option. Nir Bitton has been patient and shoring up things in defence when called upon so he might be an option.
Other available contenders are Liam Henderson and Eboue Kouassi but both are short of first team action. It is unlikely they will be involved in a starting eleven.
Up front Brendan Rodgers has three options to choose from. In reality it is only between Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembele though.
Odsonne Edouard has done well despite only being given a handful of games so far, but he has the rest of the season to show he can do even more. For now, it will be between Griffiths and Dembele.
Dembele’s future has been the subject of ongoing media speculation. With that distraction in place, Brendan may opt to go with Griffiths.
There is of course the option to play two up top in either a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 formation. Would Brendan be so daring against the mighty Rangers?
Your guess is as good as mine. It’s one more game and then a welcome break for the players I am sure.