Saturday, September 22, 2012

SPL: Celtic v Dundee

Scottish football can be stultifying, it's been over a decade now since the SPL champions faced two promoted sides over the course of their title defence.

Celtic, already a part of Ross County's elongated unbeaten league run, welcome Dundee today.

A lot of people backed Dundee to return immediately from whence they came.

They'd finished a distant second in the First Division and then spent a strange summer as victims of the rancorous paralysis that stupefied the game.

Were Rangers in or out? Rangers were out. Were Dunfermline back in or were Dundee promoted? Dundee were up.

By the time we'd worked out what was happening it seemed like Dundee were to be rewarded with an SPL spot but punished by not having time to adequately prepare.

The BBC website even lists their opening day First Division fixture as being "postponed."

And there they sit, offering succour to the "told you so-ers," at the foot of the table.

An opening day draw at Kilmarnock and a 1-0 win at Hearts are the only points gained in six games.

Four points from three away games - they were well beaten in the derby at Tannadice - isn't a bad return.

But three defeats at home will worry Barry Smith. Against Ross County and Motherwell they lost goals in the last twenty minutes of games that cost them the match.

Obviously it's far too early to discern any sort pattern. And if Dundee's start has been stuttery, they are far from alone.

Nine clubs are within five points of them in a league that is steadfastly refusing to be taken by the scruff of the neck.

Celtic find themselves among that batch after five league games when they've often looked bothered, sometimes bewildered but very rarely bewitched.

Five league games have delivered just eight points. That's far less than is expected of Celtic in seasons when they're predicted to be in a title fight, let alone a season touted as their great SPL walkover.

Maybe the players were expecting it to work out like that and are consequently lacking the focus they need.

There are injuries, of course, but also a lack of resolve and confidence in some of those who are fit.

A 0-0 draw with Benfica on in the Champions League on Wednesday featured an improved performance but hardly an inspiring one, particularly in a group where snaffling wins at home looks a minimum requirement.

All of which might mean that Dundee are less scared of a trip to Celtic Park than SPL new boys often are.

Manager Barry Smith will talk of keeping it tight at the back and starting well - although Hibs at Celtic Park and St Johnstone at home last week have shown that neither is a necessity to get some sort of result against the champions so far this season.

While one would expect Celtic to score - they've found the net in every SPL game so far - their defence is not without a certain largesse.

In five league games only Aberdeen have failed to score against them and Inverness, Hibs and St Johnstone have helped themselves to two apiece in the last three games.

The willing have found that there's goals for the taking. Which might set the Celtic Park stage for Colin Nish.

He broke his nose scoring his first Dundee goal last week but should play today. It was worth it though as it took him to joint eighth in the all-time SPL scoring charts. It will probably make him better looking into the bargain.

He's now on 63 goals, level with Chris Sutton and Stevie Crawford. Quietly effective.

I've liked Nish ever since I saw him in a corner shop after one of his less quietly - or indeed, noisily - effective performances for Hibs.

I still had my scarf on. He, rather touchingly, was still wearing his club tracksuit and looked just as miserable as me.

Our eyes met briefly, we both decided nothing needed said and so spent what seemed like an eternity staring at the floor as the girls at the front of the queue bought enough Lambrini to sink a gaggle of geese. Hibs fans don't always have more fun.

He's at 10/1 to score first tomorrow. Or, for the chicken-hearted, 10/3 to score anytime.

It could be that Celtic will be suffering what we're duty bound to call a Champions League hangover tomorrow.

Realistically though I expect them to start winning games like this. And I expect them to start winning them tomorrow.

Ladbrokes Game On!Dundee's best hope: a 1-1 draw that you can back at 14/1.

Best hope? I think so. This looks the sort of game where Celtic can stop stuttering.

Neil Lennon has talked about freshening the team up to combat that European "hangover."

So Celtic to win 2-0 with Tony Watt as first scorer at 20/1. Or, if you prefer, 3-0 at the same price.

Mind you, if you fancy a crate of Lambrini, why not go crazy on a 3-1 Celtic win with Colin Nish as first scorer. 125/1.

All odds from Ladbrokes

Always remembering

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