SPL v Celtic
CELTIC 1 DUNFERMLINE 0 Date: 29/12/02
Fixture: BOS Premier League
Attendance: 58387, Kick Off: 15:00
The small travelling support that walked along the London Road into Celtic Park were the faithful who believed that the Pars Glasgow hoodoo could be dispelled before the end of the year 2002.
They were rewarded with a game in which their team showed considerable spirit and competitiveness against an opposition which, in the past, has regularly and unceremoniously dumped them and severely dented their goal difference. This late December fixture was a different story for once.
Yes, the Pars lost 1-0, but there were periods of this match in which Dunfermline had possession and attacked in ways which they had not shown for a number of years at Parkhead. In the last quarter the Fifers even caused the champions considerable concern. In the end, Martin O`Neill conceded that his team`s tenth game in 35 days had been "hard work for us".
Jimmy Calderwood made one change from the team that lost to Kilmarnock on Boxing Day with Scott Walker starting in place of Jason Dair. The probable starting formation had the assembled Press corps in great conjecture. All attempts to predict the Calderwood tactics failed as the Pars started with a back three of Skerla, Walker and Wilson, Stevie Crawford lying deep and Lee Bullen up front beside Craig Brewster.
Celtic had Johan Mjallby back for his first match in four months as they kicked off towards the east end. Dunfermline started well, immediately settling down and demonstrating the passing skills we know they possess. Neither keeper had much to do in the first five minutes and it was Hedman in the Celtic goal who was first called into action.
In the fifth minute a long ball bounced off the head of Bobo Balde for Lee Bullen to shoot but Hedman dealt with the threat, although required two attempts before gathering the ball. Celtic`s response three minutes later gave Derek Stillie his first save of the match when Alan Thompson shot straight at the keeper.
Celtic were showing little of their danger and form that had put them only one point behind Rangers in the SPL. Chris McGroarty showed great resolve in keeping the ball in play when Agathe had given up on it, but the youngsters cross from the left was too strong and nothing came of his good work.
The Pars best chance of the first half came in the 12th minute when a Scott Thomson ball was flicked on by Brewster to Crawford, who advanced on goal from the left and unleashed a good shot which Hedman was forced to turn round his right hand post.
A minute later, Crawford had another shot but this time over the crossbar after Balde and Mjallby cleared. Crawford was greatly involved in everything at this stage, the Scotland striker showing his considerable close control skills to retain much of the midfield play.
Celtic were not really threatening the Dunfermline defence which was breaking down all of the attempts by the home team to get into the Pars penalty box. It was a more direct route which paid dividends for Celtic in the 19th minute.
A long ball from Magnus Hedman was headed on from Hartson to Sutton and then on to Henrik LARSSON who received the ball deep in the penalty area and while running diagonally away from goal managed to slip in a shot from 8 yards which deceived both Skerla and Stillie. The ball trickled into the Pars net much to the delight of the 58,000 home support.
The goal ignited the Celtic drive and the supporters urged their team to increase their lead. Dunfermline sustained severe pressure for the next ten minutes. As Hartson and Larsson threatened, Skerla was forced to concede a corner which Thompson subsequently curled in and Scott Thomson headed over the cross bar for another corner on the opposite side.
Petrov took this one and sent the ball flashing across the six yard area where Scott Wilson skied away the ball and another corner resulted on the right. This time Stillie was out to punch the ball away.
There were desperate lunging tackles on the edge of the box as Celtic continued to press. Hartson tested Stillie after the Welshman had successfully chipped the ball over Walker`s shoulder to produce another shooting opportunity.
Having survived the onslaught, it was Chris McGroarty who relieved things with a drive up the left and then involving Nicholson, Thomson and Crawford before the Celtic defence could regain possession. Hedman was back in action when a Lee Bullen cross almost reached Brewster but the Swedish goalkeeper showed his international class to deny Dunfermline.
In the 32nd minute, Scott Walker swung over a ball into the penalty box which Valgaeren and Balde both went for leaving Brewster a left footed shot on the volley which Hedman easily collected.
Celtic reminded Dunfermline of their threat when a Thompson free kick 40 yards out was driven low through the defensive set up for Stillie to save with a fine dive to his right. Andrius Skerla, whilst pushing forward in the 38th minute, lost possession and the ball was swung out right to Didier Agathe and Walker was relieved to head behind when the Celtic No.17 delivered a dangerous cross.
The corner eventually landed with Petrov and his right footed ball into the area led to much appeal from the Celtic crowd as they felt Scott Walker had held down Johan Mjallby`s challenge. Referee Stuart Dougal saw nothing amiss and play switched to the other end.
Four minutes from half time Brewster was deep right to send Thomson up the wing to fire the ball across the penalty box. Crawford and Bullen were both there but failed to connect as the ball slipped out at the far post for a goal kick.
Half time: Celtic 1 Dunfermline 0
Dunfermline kicked off the second 45 and within the first minute, Brewster laced a ball into McGroarty`s path as he burst into the penalty box. The defence successfully blocked the early offence and Scott Thomson was unlucky not to win the challenge on the edge of the box as the ball broke free.
Three minutes later it was Bullen who provided a similar ball for McGroarty and this time the youngster swung over a cross for Brewster but again managed to intercept.
Celtic won their sixth corner of the match in the sixth minute of the second half and Sutton appeared to get in the way of John Hartson`s header as it travelled towards the Dunfermline goal allowing Skerla to clear the danger.
Almost immediately Skerla was called into making a fine block as Larsson rounded McGroarty to provide a good ball for Hartson. Play switched back to the other end with Bullen teeing up McGroarty for a shot, but it was weak and wide left.
Craig Brewster played a fine one-two of Lee Bullen to put himself through in the centre of the Celtic defence midway inside their half. It looked like the Pars striker was going to charge in on goal, but he was undeniably pulled back without the referee noticing and you could hear the relief echoing around the 58,000 Celtic supporters.
Having escaped Brewster`s threat, Celtic regained control as they snuffed out Dunfermline attacks with their players covering back well. Agathe, who always looked dangerous because of his pace on the right, won a corner but the defence held out only to be threatened soon after by an Alan Thompson effort which cleared the cross bar.
Gary Dempsey, a 54th minute substitute for Gary Mason, looked keen to get involved.
|In the 68th he was unlucky when the referee failed to see his heals clipped by Lambert after Brewster had sent him through the middle and had stayed upright to shoot from 25 yards but well left of target.|
Another Agathe race down the right was eventually stopped by Crawford with Dempsey conceding the corner. Stillie was the equal of Hartson`s header as he was a fine Larsson flick on in the 74th minute. Lee Bullen then had a great chance which fell to him all of a sudden. Despite the close attention of two Celtic defenders he managed to shoot from 18 yards but the good effort was just wide.
O`Neil brought on the former Dunfermline favourite Jackie McNamar for John Hartson and Jason Dair was introduced in place of Scott Walker. This brought a change in tactic with Scott Thomson dropping back to sweeper and Dunfermline pushing forward in a more cavalier fashion.
After Stillie dealt with another Thompson shot, it was all Dunfermline as firstly two Lee Bullen crosses were headed out and then Jason Dair tried to make an opening as he collected on the edge of the box. Celtic conceded a free kick through Chris Sutton but McGroarty`s sweeping effort was too deep and Hedman gathered at the far post.
The Pars showed great maturity in retaining possession while trying to seek out a way through the Celtic defence. The quality they displayed following Dair`s introduction was possibly the best they had ever played at Celtic Park during Calderwood`s managerial term. Everyone except Derek Stillie was in the Celtic half as the Champions were put to the test.
The three added minutes which were shown on fourth official Dougie Smith`s board was met with anxious groans from the Celtic support who had not left for a quick getaway.
No matter what was tried, Dunfermline could do nothing to prevent the score remaining 1-0 and so there were no points taken from Celtic Park but damage to goal difference was limited and great confidence can be taken from the fact that trips there no longer mean severe cuffings.
Henrik Larsson proved yet again to be Dunfermline`s downfall but did have to dig deep to produce a goal which his Manager Martin O`Neil described in the post match interview as "exquisite - a brilliant goal because he still had to squeeze it in".
The Pars showed for the second successive visit to Celtic Park that they are a different side from the one who used to come to Celtic Park for a mauling. Stevie Crawford was immense in his special role; Chris McGroarty seemed to be in the thick of it all the time - if he wasn`t policing Agathe he was driving forward and causing mayhem. The youngster looks more like the promising player we saw 18 months ago.
Bring on the Livvy!