The Hoops will keep a close eye on this one. Celtic’s 3-1 advantage should have been good enough to secure that Anfield trip for Martin O’Neill and his bhoys, but Basle proved better than expected. Some Celts were not convinced with the performance in the home leg against Basle, even with a 3-1 advantage. That 2-nil defeat by Basle in Switzerland will take time to heal.
Then Celtic lost 2-1 to Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League. Rangers took advantage and opened a 4-point lead over the weekend. It was a must-win for Celtic when they faced Dundee on the Sunday. The pressure was on to keep in touch with the Gers. Henrik Larsson produced the magic goal to take three huge points keeping Rangers honest with a one-point lead over the Hoops.
It did seem that Celtic had buried their disastrous Champions League exit when they lashed eight goals past FK Suduva in the first round of the UEFA Cup with a Larsson hat trick. But on the domestic front Celtic simply could not afford any slip ups against Dundee in their most recent SPL fixture.
Larsson’s superb finish at Dens Park was the beginning to burying CL regrets. For Celtic to make amends, they will feel a must-win situation for the SPL title. Larsson silenced all his critics who believed the Swede wasn’t so silky. While Larsson must score to silence his critics, his consistent performances is what his manager looks for. The Swede’s creative movement against Dundee was textbook stuff.
O’Neill will take another look at Nacho-Novo bursting through the Hoops defense in the 25th minute. Novo caused concern for Celtic and hit the side net just before halftime. But it was Dundee’s last threat on the Celtic goal. The Hoops looked convincing after the break. They dominated and perhaps could have scored again just to put the opposition away. Now the critics will say that Larsson should be scoring more and he will. Of course there are no sureties in the game, but with a bit of luck Larsson will remain fit and healthy. Then Celtic can be dangerous on home soil and in the UEFA Cup with Larsson firing on all cylinders.
Signs that the Celtic defense is getting more organized appeared within the first 10 minutes. Dundee’s Fabian Caballero got in on the right, but Bobo Balde was on duty to deflect the ball wide. But then Dundee’s Gavin Rae latched onto a stray ball only to strike wide of Hoops goalkeeper Robert Douglas. To be fully convinced that Celtic has indeed moved on since their CL omission, their defense must tighten up. But a clean sheet it was and that’s just what the Bhoys needed. Celtic gained more confidence in the back with their second-half performance against Dundee. They are capable of another SPL title. Their tempo will pick up. Larsson made sure of that in the 18th minute with a top-shelf finish, his 10th of the season.
To boost the motivation within the club, O’Neill expects to meet with shareholder Dermot Desmond after the Old Firm clash in October. It would seem that it is contract time again. Hopefully, O’Neill realizes he does have a chance in the Champions League, but to win it is another ball game. However, there are tougher leagues to win for CL qualification. The team has to qualify consistently. O’Neill can do that with Celtic for the next few years.
The ongoing question is, how far can Celtic go in the CL? Rangers may have a word or two to say about that also. However, the energy level at Celtic has picked up. O’Neill was his bitter self after the CL loss but his tone changed after the Suduva win. “We will definitely go through, even I can say that,” he said. “Scintillating,” was what O’Neill said his bhoys were. The Celtic manager then admitted that he did not know Larsson equaled Ally McCoist’s Scottish European record of 21 goals. He would of left Larsson on if he had of known McCoist’s record, joked the ex-Northern Ireland international.