Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football Scottish Celtic

Virgil Van Dijk pounces to edge out Partick Thistle as Celtic go clear

By Ronnie Esplin

Virgil van Dijk's second-half goal gave Celtic a 1-0 win over Partick Thistle at Parkhead and took Ronny Deila's side three points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

The Hoops were not flat out in the first-half but veteran Jags keeper Paul Gallacher still had to make several saves to keep his goal intact.

After more huffing and puffing after the break, Van Dijk got the breakthrough on the hour mark with a close-range strike, adding to the two he notched in Sunday's 4-0 William Hill Scottish Cup win at Hearts.

The Maryhill side had lost 6-0 when they travelled across the city on League Cup duty at the end of October and were glad not to suffer in similar fashion again, although they could have no complaints about leaving pointless as the Hoops opened up the points gap over second-place Inverness.

Deila made a couple of changes to his side following the trip to Tynecastle.

Aleksandar Tonev, whose appeal against a seven-game ban for racially abusing Aberdeen defender Shay Logan when the two teams met in September will be heard at Hampden Park today, was handed his first start since a Europa League clash with Dinamo Zagreb in October.

Midfielder Charlie Mulgrew returned after recovering from a rib injury, while Thistle boss Alan Archibald drafted in Aaron Muirhead, Conrad Balatoni and James Craigen.

The first real opportunity for the champions did not arrive until the ninth minute when midfielder Stefan Johansen's cross found John Guidetti, but his header was tipped over the bar by Gallacher.

The 35-year-old then made saves from Tonev and Van Dijk as the home side slowly increased the pressure but again the Firhill defence was untroubled by the consequent corners.

Thistle's attacks were sporadic but in the 22nd minute defender Stephen O'Donnell worked his way into the Celtic box before firing in a cross-cum shot from 16 yards which Hoops keeper Craig Gordon smothered.

The home side were in control but their indecision in front of goal was summed up when Guidetti missed the target from eight yards after being set up again by Johansen.

With five minutes of the first half remaining, Gallacher raced from his line to block Guidetti and when Parkhead skipper Scott Brown squared the loose ball to Anthony Stokes he fired wide from 16 yards to more groans from exasperated Hoops fans.

Israeli midfielder Nir Bitton replaced Mulgrew for the start of the second half and with four minutes played he raced on to another defence-splitting pass by Van Dijk only to slam his shot into the side netting with only Gallacher to beat. However, the home side eventually got their rewards on the hour mark after Brown won a free-kick on the right-hand side about 35 yards from goal.

When Johansen's delivery came into the box Van Dijk tussled with Muirhead and when the ball dropped the Dutchman quickly swept it in from four yards out.

With four minutes remaining and the game petering out, Gordon made a great save from substitute Kris Doolan's scissor-kick to keep the home side deservedly ahead all the way to the final whistle.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph